Great Anti-Imperialist Bazaar
“Did you know that Lenin had syphilis?”
Ingars Burlaks is a nerdy Latvian youngster who was hawking Joseph Stalin postcards at the contentious and very expensive Great Anti-Imperialist Youth Bazaar at the Tshwane Events Centre this week.
His country’s stall, in the heart of a massive exhibition hall, filled to capacity with international legions of young revolutionaries driven inside by pouring rain, contained only a table.
On the table, covered by sober white socialist cloth, stood a substantial pile of photos of the grim, steelmoustached Russian dictator’s face.
The young Latvian spitefully chucked the father of the revolution’s sex life into the conversation after the journalist confessed to admiring the philosopher more than the dictator.
And he contemplated his feet when asked to explain the relevance of Lenin’s sex life to the revolution.
It was a fair question in these surroundings.
Sex was in the air at the centre, where some of the delegates to the 17th World Festival for Youth and Students openly smooched when they felt the urge.
Like father, like children.
Lenin’s children came to the R69?million youth fest dressed in Chinese (mass-produced, not haute) couture, accessorised by the artefacts of the revolution: black berets, chests full of badges, red bandanas and armbands.
But this imperialism at the heart of the massive Chinese clothing industry, flooding the world with cheap jeans, baggy shorts and tops, was clearly not on their young, antiimperialist minds.
“Why do you wear that cheap Chinese junk that killed your country’s clothing industry?” was a question many pretended not to understand.
Many of the youngsters wore the faces of their heroes on their T-shirts: Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Mandela, Che.
But mostly, astoundingly, Che.
Fifty years after Alberto Korda produced the iconic picture of the revolution’s most famous son, young people still wear his image with bolshy pride.
The moody face of Che Guevara was in fact not only the most dominant image on clothing, it also dominated the décor of the stalls set up by countries at the youth fest.
And the revolutionary pamphlets and fliers of countries such as India and Sri Lanka were decorated with Che’s face, not the face of local socialist heroes.
Indian delegate Stalin Balavelan explained that his organisation used the image because it was so familiar to young people.
“But who are your socialist heroes?” No reply.
A Belgian delegate said Che had been adopted as the country’s revolutionary hero because Belgium had not produced any heroes of its own.
They know Che’s face, but not his history.
Among the thousands of youngsters, only a few were familiar with the facts of Guevara’s history.
It may have been hunger that addled their sense of history.
During the first few days of the fest, many delegates complained that they had not been properly fed.
Many were gnawing soggy mielie cobs bought from the mama’s hawking food in the street outside.
Some delegates patronised the Wimpy kiosk. Most, subsiding on their meagre revolutionary budgets, had to wait in long lines for their food.
At times, food ran out before everybody had been served.
The youngsters may also have been thirsty.
The beer garden outside remained closed because of the weather.
The exhibition hall was the main centre of social life during the first rainy days of the fest.
Here, apart from smooching, a lot of dancing happened.
At one end of the hall the Palestinians set up sound equipment from which issued the piercing sounds of Arab revolutionary music.
At the other end was a huge marimba from South Sudan, from which the most delicate of tunes were coaxed.
Nobody could hear themselves think, so they shook their booties endlessly.
At one end, the Palestinians were thumping out revolutionary dances, displaying flags and big portraits of president Mahmoud Abbas and the late Yasser Arafat.
At the other end, thundering African teenagers were joined by those who like their dancing rough.
The youngsters danced, photographed themselves endlessly, passed out on the floor, slept and shopped at the stalls.
Some of them indulged in the art of political brawling. Not a revolutionary art. Moroccan delegates frequently came to blows with delegates of Western Sahara.
The organisers of the event, in their wisdom, placed them in almost neighbouring stalls, greatly enhancing the opportunity for fisticuffs.
Many of the young delegates bunked the highbrow discussions and the papers delivered by VIP revolutionaries at programmed times elsewhere in the centre.
Some countries dished out mahala badges and other revolutionary artefacts.
The gifts and the shopping had a revolutionary effect on the revolutionary chic in which many of the youngsters arrived.
Layers of purchases produced ludicrous results.
Many of the African youngsters proudly traipsed around in the kind of hats the Vietnamese wear in their rice paddies, topped with mahala Hugo Chavez bandannas.
A Mozambican delegate sported a chest full of a record number of revolutionary badges, rounded off with a hat from the ANC designer collection, which made him look as windgat as police chief Bheki Cele.
What does today’s generation of bolshy youngsters believe? “Che-nge the World” – the credo on one of the Guevara T-shirts peddled at the fest.
But that the spiritual father of the revolution had the syph? Aikona!