East bloc tries to win back hearts of youth

A big majority of educated young people think Poland should be ''just like the West,'' according to a poll taken recently by a largely pro-government Roman Catholic weekly.

This attitude helps explain why the school year began with a renewed drive to intensify ideological work in schools.

In the past, however, official youth organizations have almost negligible impact on Polish youth.

Some time ago, the communist youth daily Sztandar Mlodych commented: ''Looking at young peoples' attitudes between August 1980 and now, it is hard not to ask what has happened to the millions and millions of money (spent) on seminars, camps, conferences, competitions, meetings, and all the other forms of political training. It seems all to have been wasted.''

This assessment reflects one of the Warsaw government's greatest worries: its lack of credibility with society at large and with young people in particular.

Poland is not alone in its youth problem, although four years of crisis have made the problem more intractable than in the other East European countries.

In May, all the Soviet-bloc communist parties met in Sofia, Bulgaria to discuss their common failure to ensure the ''proper upbringing'' of youth and to combat its widespread indifference toward and disaffection with the communist system.

Later, at a round table of Polish and Soviet educators in Katowice, in southern Poland, the Russians expressed concern over the waywardness of much of Soviet youth and its pursuit of Western life styles. The participants apparently agreed that the communist states need to catch their young at an earlier, more impressionable age.

A Pole suggested, in fact, that ideological training should start with six- or seven-year-olds because, he said, the church - more influential in Poland than elsewhere in the East bloc - had ''a head start'' on the communists from the very first formative years.

The youth problem pervades the East bloc. Hungary, which has long been better off domestically than Poland, is currently lamenting the same lack of political conviction among many of its young people.

This situation is, in fact, a subject of increasingly candid public debate. This year, a book of studies by social scientists on Hungarian youth in the 1980 s, a series of articles in the party's theoretical monthly Tarsadalmi Szemle on the same subject, and an October meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee added to the stir.

What emerged was a virtual consensus of views as heard from two of the book's contributors in a Radio Budapest interview.

Hungarian youth, they said, had an ''everyday'' ideology characterized by total abstention from politics.

''Their political education is a too formal, peripheral factor. Whatever they hear in school, in youth organizations, or at work does not become a deeply felt conviction.

''Signs of crisis in certain (communist) countries (i.e., Poland) prompt . . . an idealized picture of bourgeois pluralized party parliamentarism,'' they concluded.

The Hungarian journal Tarsadalmi Szemle linked the decline in younger party membership with dissatisfaction over party programs that halted the steady rise in living standards in the 1970s.

And the party committee spoke of a need to reduce discrepancies between work performance and pay. The younger generation, it said, ''has to be helped'' to raise homes and families. But the statement had no specifics for improving the situation.

''We are really stretched to the limits of what we can do,'' a party liberal remarked in an anguished voice to this writer.

In Hungary, as in the bloc generally, all formal youth activity is in the hands of the party's youth organization.

The sociologists argued that if young people were given more freedom to do things their own way, ''individualistic rejection of the system might not be so prevalent.''

In Poland, the Polish Students Association (PSA) was founded two years ago (without a specifically political label) amid hints that the government-sponsored group would primarily occupy itself with social and educational needs with considerable leeway for student self-government. But most students now see PSA as just another politicized and politicizing party bureaucracy.

The result: minimal response to recruitment. Only 1 in 9 of 340,000 students in 89 centers of higher education are members, and in larger universities the association has only a nominal presence.

The High Education Act, also brought in two years ago, suffered a similar fate.

Under it, schools and universities are supposed to operate within their own statutes, with authorities democratically elected by staff and students.

But the government has been increasingly frustrated by its meager credibility among students and the inclination of many leading academics toward the banned trade union, Solidarity. So the government has made use of ''special powers'' under the act to block elected rectorial choices in four major universities - Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, and Poznan.

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