Checkpoint Helsinki x Radio Helsinki – radio play: Festival 1962

Checkpoint Helsinki’s end-of-year offerings include a radio play mostly in Finnish, Festival 1962, produced by an international workgroup – visual artist Minna Henriksson, theatre maker Elina Izarra, and theorist and activist Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur – to be broadcast on Radio Helsinki 14–18.12.2015.

The radio play in reportage form will re-visit the venues for the 1962 youth festival in Helsinki. It will uncover Helsinki’s forgotten and silenced history, and explore the story nowadays told about the cold war. The workgroup has invited a number of journalists who promote marginal viewpoints to join in the making of the play.

In the summer of 1962, an exceptional event was held in Helsinki, the World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship, in which some 14,000 young people representing 137 countries or nationalities took part.

This was one of the biggest international events in Finnish history, and brought to the city an unprecedented array of visitors from around the world. This included representatives of newly independent colonies and some who would later become famous, such as Angela Davis and Alice Walker, along with the jazz pioneers Bill Dixon and Archie Shepp. The great hero of the arms race between the super powers, Yuri Gagarin, also arrived in Helsinki for the occasion.

The Festival theme of peace and friendship was not to everyone’s taste. An international socialist youth festival being held in the capital of a neutral country worried the USA and CIA in particular. And so a large counter-festival was staged in Helsinki, funded by the CIA.

The Finnish mainstream media boycotted the youth festival and most of the political parties actively opposed it. One thing that particularly attracted international attention was the anti-festival, racist youth disturbances, which the police quelled with horses, batons and tear gas. Both the festival and the anti-communist counter-festival used culture, art and music as weapons of political combat. American salon-jazz artists and abstract paintings from New York’s Museum of Modern Art were flown to Helsinki.

Established history interprets the 1960s in terms of a confrontation between East and West. Henriksson, Izarra and Johnston-Arthur take a fresh look at the situation and trace some forgotten aspects of the 1962 youth festival.

The workgroup starts from a critical analysis of the festival that bypasses traditional oppositions between East and West or festival and anti-festival. They see parallels between the events in Helsinki in 1962 and the present:

On arriving in Helsinki, festival visitors met with opposition to their presence. This took various forms, ranging from silent boycotts to booing and jeering in the streets, to orchestrated anti-festival activities, and even scuffles. According to the Finnish security-police report, one reason for the rioting, apart from anti-communism, was “the style of dress and behaviour alien to the Nordic mentality of people from elsewhere”.

The work raises the questions: Is Helsinki more broad-minded today? Are people here capable of recognizing an exceptionally worthy cultural programme, even if its context is unappealing?

Festival 1962 is part of the Remembering Silences season, curated by Ahmed Al-Nawas.