Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

E. Europe rock keeps youth dancing - and officials on toes

By William EchiksonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 16, 1987


``Pershing'' is about to blast off. ``Broom'' is ready to sweep up. ``Pershing'' and ``Broom'' are two 17-year-old Polish punk rockers. One cuts her brown hair to resemble a broom. The other, a black-haired girl dressed in a black-leather outfit, does wild dances that her friends say resemble a nuclear missile ready to explode.

Skip to next paragraph

Along with a thousand more Polish teen-agers, the two punks are rocking to the screams of a hard-rock group Siekera at the government-operated Remont Riviera club.

In an eerie echo of America in the 1960s, rock-and-roll is rolling across Eastern Europe, shaking up societies that once prided themselves on the behavior of their young. Polls show that many Eastern European youngsters, such as ``Pershing'' and ``Broom,'' are frustrated with school, and jobs, and are fearful of their future. Like their Western counterparts 20 years ago, East European youth are making rock and roll the creed of their generation.

The music presents East European communists with a dilemma. After long years of trying to suppress rock, authorities now tolerate concerts at places such as the Remont Riviera - while worrying whether they can keep the music, and the problems it illustrates to them, within acceptable bounds.

``When I was in Munich and Budapest recently, I visited pop clubs,'' says Michal Szymanczak of the Polish Institute of Youth Problems. ``In Munich, there were no punks and the music was mellow. In Budapest, the club was filled with punks and the music was alienated and aggressive.''

The Soviet Union is also affected. A film playing to packed houses in Moscow, called ``Is it Easy to be Young?,'' profiles young people at a rock concert in Latvia - and finds none of them interested in communism. East European youth organizations confirm this disenchantment with official ideology, reporting declining numbers of young Communist Party members and candidate members.

``Youth here are scared because the economic perspective is bad,'' says Gabor Ferencz, a director of the Hungarian Party Youth Union. Waiting lists for apartments now stretch on for years in many East bloc countries, forcing youth to live with their parents even after they marry. Says Mr. Ferencz: ``The party doesn't give convincing answers to these problems.''

Opposition movements do not attract these dissatisfied youngsters, either. In a recent study, researcher Szymanczak divided Polish youth into three categories, pro-party, antiparty, and undecided. ``The pro-party group was bigger than the antiparty group, but the vast majority of youth considered themselves undecided,'' he says.

``Pershing'' and ``Broom'' seem typical. When asked to list their heros, they name rock-and-roll singer Buddy Holly. What about Lech Walesa, leader of the banned independent trade union Solidarity? ``Politics are nonsense,'' they answer, ``all politicians want to do is declare war and make people stupid.'' They say they want ``a way to escape from the drudgery of our daily lives.''

As in the West, this translates into different forms of adolescent rebellion. Many East European teen-agers reject their elders' sexual mores. According to researchers Kurt Starke and Walter Friedrich, the average East German woman loses her virginity at age 16 and changes partners more often than her mother did. Others turn to alcohol and drugs. In Poland, Szymanczak says, ``since 1981, there has been a big rise in both young alcoholics and drug addicts.''

But music represents the most prevalent and public expression of this rebellious, youthful spirit. Grzegorz Brzozowicr, director of the Remont Riviera Club, says ``there's been an explosion of rock here in the 1980s.'' Popular rock records, he says, sell up to 500,000 copies, and the Polish rock group Manaam has sold 1.5 million records - in a country of about 35 million. Manaam and other groups can fill concert halls of 10,000 or more people.