V Światowy Festiwal Młodzieży i Studentów, Warszawa 1955

The 5th World Festival of Youth and Students was held in Warsaw over two weeks between 31 July and 15 August 1955. The entire undertaking emanated the atmosphere of the approaching political thaw. The festival was to provide an official occasion to demonstrate to the world the superiority of the socialist system over capitalism. It attracted thirty thousand participants, mostly youth, from 114 countries, from both people’s republics and countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The event was organized jointly by the Union of Polish Youth and the World Federation of Democratic Youth. The main landmarks were the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science, inaugurated the same year, Constitution Square with the Marszałkowska Residential District (MDM) complex, and the Tenth Anniversary Stadium. The festival events were set in the centre of Warsaw, which was slowly being rebuilt but was still full of ruins and debris.

The space of the city rising from wartime devastation featured numerous artistic decorations that were supposed to generate an atmosphere of victorious optimism. Their main element was a frieze created by young artists Wojciech Fangor and Henryk Tomaszewski, a 400-metre-long modern composition running along ul. Marszałkowska, from ul. Świętokrzyska to Al. Jerozolimskie. The frieze comprised simplified painterly symbols of the countries participating in the festival as well as doves of peace. The trees along the route of youth processions were adorned with ribbons designed by Oskar Hansen. The 5th World Festival of Youth and Students was supposed not only to recapitulate the victorious struggle for world peace, but above all to showcase the victory of the socialist system over fascism and capitalism. Still, the decorations and exhibitions presented during the festival were far removed from Socialist Realist doctrine. One of the main features in the programme was the exhibition Against War, Against Fascism at the Arsenal in Warsaw. The exhibited works marked a considerable departure not only from the official Socialist Realist art, but also from the programmatic optimism and atmosphere of celebrating the victory of socialism over fascism. The show marked the artists’ attempt, imbued with distress and suffering, at a reckoning with the nightmare of war and the Holocaust.

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