Nearly two weeks ago I have returned from Sochi (Russia), where 19th World Festival of Youth and Students took place. I was rather surprised that the media didn’t cover much such a huge, big scale event. Thus, in this article I would like to get you informed about the festival itself, speak about the issues raised and explain what kind of experience I have gained.

What is WFYS and how did I find out about it?

The WFYS (standing for World Festival of Youth and Students) is an irregular international event, organized by a United Nations-recognized international youth NGO of World Federation of Democratic Youth together with International Union of Students. The first ever festival took place in 1947 in Czechoslovakia and since then happened in several socialist countries including Cuba, North Korea, Finland and Ecuador. Moscow (during Soviet Union time) was twice the host of the festival in years 1957 and 1985, and gathered 34,000 and 26,000 participants accordingly. This year was the third time in history when Russia hosted the event, as a sign of 100-year anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution. However, this time it was not Moscow who greeted students from all over the world, but the city located along the beautiful cost of the Black Sea near the Caucasus Mountains, the sport capital of the country – Sochi.

I have received the information about the event in the early April and truly saying didn’t know what to expect till the moment of arrival in Sochi Airport. “European” news didn’t provide any information about the festival and the only insights were coming from official channels of the event. Moreover, it appeared that from my multicultural network of friends only two other people have registered as well as Estonian delegation was represented by approximately 50 people only, which shows that the festival wasn’t that well promoted.

19th WFYS, how it all started.

This year, according to data 30,000 people (including 5,000 volunteers) from all over the world took part in this one-week event. Young leaders and activists were coming from 180 countries to discuss crucial topics and participate in theme events. It is important to pay tribute to the organizers of the event, as they managed to solve logistics problems, provide transfers, accommodation and food to all participants as well as to distribute uniforms and fill with presents. Each individual was given a set of clothing with festival emblem, a mobile phone with a Russian sim card and a gift. As initial number of the guest registered was 25,000, there were issues with the scarcity of the equipment, however, the organizers managed to solve them throughout the festival, re-ordering phones and presents and making sure that no one is deprived.

The whole festival has started with a grand opening ceremony at Bolshoy Stadium in the Olympic park. The tickets for the ceremony were in drastic scarcity, as the Stadium can fit only 12,000 viewers. The opening ceremony of WFYS was comparable in scale to the opening ceremony of Eurovision or Olympic games and I was lucky to have a chance be a part of this spectacular event. And personally, the most pleasing detail for me was the core meaning and value imposed in the show. I was gladly surprised that the ceremony included not only the songs, dances and fun, but raised questions that my generation has to tackle. Problems with environment, importance of social entrepreneurship, lack of education in developing countries – all this was investigated in the event. Audience was laughing and crying, listening to heartbreaking stories of people on the stage and getting the meaning out of the songs’ lyrics.

I managed to find the video recording of the event on YouTube, so if you have a free minute I would strongly recommend you to watch it, as there are English subtitles.

Panels, discussions and cultural events.

The program of the festival was that elaborated and diversified that it was simply impossible to follow everything. All the events were divided in categories such as Education, Politics, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Sports, Art, etc. One could literally find anything interesting starting with skateboarding competition and drawing classes, finishing with business/UN simulations as well as meetings with politicians, entrepreneurs, Olympic champions and even the president of Russia Federation Vladimir Putin. I personally was honored to listen to the lectures of the Minister of Economic Development and representative of Central Bank of Russia, take part in the brainstorming process, organized by Sberbank Corporate University, watch the debates about the possible outcomes of AI development, new technologies presented by Google employees, etc. From the educational point of view, this event was the most diversified and elaborated than any other event I have ever heard of.

Certainly, the most desired and popular lecture of the festival was the motivational speech of Nicholas Vujicic, who came specifically for the festival to prove the audience that everything in this life is possible, as long as you dream big, make an effort and remain a human being. The waiting line to the lecture started at 4am and was increasing with every hour. Organizers saw that the demand was too big for a small auditorium and provided participants with an extra room, where they could watch the live stream on TVs.

Festival has also included many workshops, where people could try out pottery, drawing, woodcraft and even 3D printing! Fascinating entertainment events as Robot Fights, Aviashow, BMX competitions, marathons and even dance battles. Moreover, every evening there was a great variety of cultural events, started from movie screenings, finishing with musicals, theater plays and live music on the main stage.

My final thoughts

Many have asked about the political aspect of the event. The venue indeed had an interesting political vibe, in which the post socialist world brought values slowly emerging in the traditional western world. In fact, the collaborative and social aspect of the eastern philosophy was well discussed, in a modern and positive manner. I believe that the eastern society and its social philosophy becomes relevant in our modern era and pushes toward a better future. Overall, from the perspective of a participant, political messages were clearly not the priority. To me and to those with who I managed to get acquainted with during this festival such event gives a much bigger value and has a deeper meaning, and this value I am eager to share with you.

We – are building the future. We have the mutual responsibility to solve the unsolvable and whether one likes to face it or not, but our generation is given neither chance nor time to postpone global problems. It is not only one country’s problem to clear out the seacoast from excessive waste, it is a common task to find better sustainable energy resources, it is your obligation to not throw trash on the street. We are future leaders and foremost people. The future of politics, economics, social justice, sport depends on us and our fellow earthlings. Earlier we forget about greed, hate, differences, wars and concentrate on fighting injustice, hunger, environmental issues and intolerance, sooner the world become the peaceful and safe place to be. And what do all the people on the planet want? Peace, safety and happiness.

Think for a second, we are all living in one big home. Despite political actions and human prejudices, people should realize that there are much more similarities than differences between nations than one thinks. Such events as WFYS give you a chance to become friends with people from the places you have never been and maybe even never heard of. You listen to their stories, see them dancing, smiling and laughing. You get an incredible amount of first-source information, as people share their experiences, thoughts and ideas, trying to find the answers to complicated questions of life.

To wrap up, just dream and dream big. Move and be active. Open your eyes and be open-minded, and eventually you will find the ways to make this world a better place.

Written By:
Irisha Krepchuk (Belarus)
BA in Business Administration

Photos by:
Iryna Krepchuk