East-bloc regimes look for ways to keep young people in line. Officials fear there's more interest in rock music than ideology
Vienna — ``Rock, rock, rock'' said a leaflet thrust into this correspondent's hand on a Budapest street recently. It advertised one of the numerous discos that have mushroomed up in the Hungarian capital in recent years. Their existence is a mark of the generally broader tolerance by Hungary's communist officials toward young people in comparison to the rest of the Soviet bloc.
Most other East European regimes are much less easygoing. Their attitudes toward the place of rock music in the young generation's life vary from virtual prohibition to confused ambivalence.
This is just as true of Soviet officials. In 1983, then Soviet leader Yuri Andropov spoke caustically of Soviet rock bands as ``ideologically and aesthetically harmful'' groups with ``suspicious repertoires.'' But since then, there has been a sign or two that the Russians have accepted rock music as ``here to stay.''
Moscow's sponsorship of a youth music festival last summer, with a well-known Soviet rock group relayed to the West by satellite as part of the ``Live Aid'' concert for African famine victims, was a case in point. A Soviet performer at the festival said pertinently enough that giving rock a green light would defuse its mystique as an expression of opposition.
Eastern Europe's ultraconservatives have not gotten that far yet.
At the Czech Communist Party Congress last week, party chief Gustav Husak lamented ``certain types of music'' which, he said, have ``an adverse influence on the moral values of the young generation.'' He was not specific, but rock and pop groups have been continuously under strong pressure ever since Mr. Husak initiated his antireform program in the fall of 1969, in his drive to return Czechoslovakia to Soviet orthodoxy following the Prague Spring revolt a year before.
Although the Poles and the Hungarians may subscribe to a Soviet ``conservative'' view that Western ``bourgeois mass culture and morals'' are part and parcel of pop music, they place no obstacles in the way of performances. In both countries, lyrics with politically barbed texts are tolerated that would be impossible in Czechoslovakia, Romania, or Bulgaria.
``It would be naive to imagine Warsaw without pop,'' an official there, concerned with youth, said. ``To try and restrict it would be simply to add to our problems with youth and, goodness knows, they are [a] handful enough already.''
Polish and Hungarian students for the most part take education seriously, even though they face the same challenges in getting a job as other East Europeans.
By contrast, President Nicolae Ceausescu's totalitarian Romania is increasingly faced with student apathy, manifested in appalling absenteeism from classes and exams and in increasingly poor results -- even at the top universities -- when exams are taken.
Mr. Ceausescu makes no concession to the role that socio-economic conditions might play in the matter. Like Husak, Ceausescu blames ``outside influences'' for the disaffection of young people with his regime, and cracks down on ``unsuitable'' Western movies or music groups trying to appear outside the officially approved performances that are geared to the authorities' political needs.
Bulgaria faces similar problems with what it regards as ``idle youth,'' as young as 15 or as old as 30, which neither study nor work and are concerned only to be ``Western'' insofar as they are able. Often this means engaging in crime under the influence of alcohol. The official response has been compulsory registration for job training or work, with sharp penalties for those people who dodge whichever option local manpower offices assign them to. And during the present school year, the government has returned to a ban on long hair styles, compulsory school uniforms, and curfew requiring teen-agers to be home by 9 p.m.
East-bloc regimes also face a problem in young people's interest in religion.
In Poland, the Roman Catholic Church was the principal outlet for frustrated youth after martial law and the destruction of the independent trade union, Solidarity. But young people have turned to the churches in growing numbers in Czechoslovakia and Romania as well.
The Catholic Church is extremely hard-pressed in Czechoslovakia, but a majority of the masses of pilgrims at last year's commemoration of the 1,100th anniversary of the death of St. Methodius, a Slavic saint, were young people. In Romania, the Baptist Church is most under pressure, with severe sanctions against ``dissident'' priests or laymen ``illegally'' distributing Bibles and other religious literature. But the church has a bigger active following than at any time since World War II, and much of that following is in the young generation.
Beside this turn to the churches, there is an ``inner emigration'' among young East Europeans with which the authorities find it especially hard to contend. Hungarian sociologists call it an ``every day'' escape ideology, characterized by disdain of any politics.
If that can be said of Hungary, where youngsters may wear whatever they please, listen to whatever music they like, and travel with relative freedom (including visits to the West), it is even more the case of its allies.
In Czechoslovakia, ``escape'' takes two forms. One is exemplified by a teenaged/student John Lennon ``cult,'' which regularly commemorates the murdered Beatle but always so peacefully that it is difficult for the police to intervene.
The other is more serious: an upsurge last year of football hooliganism. It culminated in vandalizing of a soccer train taking fans from Prague to a key match in Slovakia. Thirteen Czechoslovaks were sentenced for up to 30 months for wrecking three cars beyond repair and attacking passengers and train personnel who tried to restrain them. Eight of the 13 were under 18 years. One was a girl. All, the court was told, were drunk.
But what made the incident much more ideologically painful was that the offenders were all from working-class backgrounds. Such inability to attract worker youth would seem to be confronting East-bloc leaders with one of their biggest problems as the new Gorbachev generational era begins.