Rock is rolled out of Soviet discos
Moscow — Discotheques have been told to turn off the music. Rock groups have been banned from performing. Such moves are part of a tough new drive by Soviet leadership against Western influence over the young.
The crackdown follows a hard-line speech on ideology and culture by Konstantin Chernenko, a member of the ruling Politburo, at a plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee in June. Declaring that ''the enemy is trying to exploit youthful psychology,'' Chernenko hit out at Western fashion and music , saying they were part of an arsenal of subversive weapons aimed at undermining the commitment of young Russians to communist ideology.
The effects have stunned and visibly angered teenagers in Moscow.
Visitors to the handful of full-scale discotheques in the city now find that dancing is banned and that Soviet melodies are wafting from the giant speakers instead of tapes of the latest Western hits acquired by enterprising disc jockeys on the black market.
The growing number of Soviet rock groups purveying everything from early Presley to elaborate imitation Pink Floyd are also feeling the freeze. Senior cultural officials announced recently several bands had been banned outright because they were ideologically unsound.
The Soviet Cultural Ministry has said it will review the performances of all the country's pop musicians by Oct. 1 and that those who have failed to clean up their acts will be disbanded.
The criticism is directed at both repertoires and clothing favored by the young artists. Any signs of Western tastes are to be eliminated. What is demanded is a sober appearance and a program of home-grown songs without raucous guitar backing and stage theatricals.
The move against pop music is not isolated, but part of a more wide-ranging effort to impose strict party guidelines across the whole field of culture.
During the last years of the late President Leonid Brezhnev, the authorities relaxed their control over the arts sufficiently to allow mildly critical books, plays, and films to appear. As far as the country's youth was concerned, the leadership appeared to take the view that there was little point in battling the jeans and rock-music culture which evidently exerted such a strong attraction.
The winds of change began to blow after Yuri Andropov took over as ideological chief within the party hierarchy in the middle of last year. A stern edict criticized the trend in literature toward works that analyzed personal and social problems, and called for a return to pure communist orthodoxy.
After Andropov succeeded Brezhnev as party chief in November, the crackdown gathered force. A series of rulings were issued against the theater and cinema, accusing them of dwelling on introverted and discontented characters and touching on religious themes. The call went out for the reestablishment of ''socialist-realism,'' the dour artistic creed of the Stalin era which demanded that authors present positive heroes as a model for the young and focus on the glorious achievements of socialism.
This two-dimensional style of ''boy-meets-tractor'' romance can hardly have much appeal for a nation which has grown more sophisticated in its tastes. But this does not seem to be a concern of the elderly leaders in the Kremlin.
The new policy line was extended to music this summer, when a new oratorio by the Soviet Union's leading classical modernist, Alfred Shnitke, was banned because it was considered too ''mystical.'' It was only a matter of time before the fledgling rock industry also came into the line of fire.
The officially controlled press has fallen into line with articles comparing Moscow discotheques to sleazy dockside bars in Marseilles and describing domestic rock music as akin to the wailings of enraged natives on some distant South Seas island. What they have not yet turned their guns on is jazz, which was vilified during Stalin's day but is believed to be a personal penchant of President Andropov.
Reports from other Soviet cities indicate that the new restrictions are being imposed all over the country. It remains to be seen what effect they will have. But in many small towns the local disco is the only leisure activity available for the young and the measures appear certain to antagonize people already bored with their lifestyles.
The leadership has made clear it believes that by eliminating Western fashion and music it will be able to assure a sounder ideological upbringing for young people. Such an attitude suggests only that they are out of touch with the feelings of their people.
There is also much to suggest the new policy will not have much success. When a similar hard-line attitude prevailed in the 1960s, it simply drove the market for Western pop records underground. Today there are far greater contacts with the outside world, thanks to a foreign community several-thousand strong and a regular influx of tourists. The Kremlin looks likely to succeed only in angering and alienating young people and its attempts to instill greater loyalty and commitment could yet backfire badly.