Youth

Youth was a vital battleground in the cultural Cold War. British policymakers across the empire, especially in Hong Kong and Cyprus, considered youth to be at the same time a defenceless target of communist indoctrination and a dangerous source of anti-colonial agitation. This owed largely to the stereotype of youth’s corruptible idealism as well as to the existence of well-funded and well-organized communist youth organizations at the local level (such as the CCP’s New Democratic Youth

League and AKEL’s AON) and the international level (the WFDY and IUS) and the Soviets’ historical preoccupation with youth and familial politics.12 Furthermore, as post-war economies and British efforts in development and welfare allowed for greater educational opportunities, colonial youth had increasing access to the more influential positions within society and government.13

The politicalization of youth, although not a new phenomenon, evolved in 1918 with the formation of the Soviet Union’s Komsomol, ‘the first state-sponsored communist youth organization, in the very first communist country’. 1 4 The Soviet Union also dictated the next major development in 1945, with the creation of the first transnational nongovernmental organization for youth, the WFDY. This Soviet monopoly was reinforced the following year with the formation of the communist- dominated IUS in Prague. Both of these organizations, which were highly successful communist front organizations designed to rally the world’s youth to the Soviets, established colonial bureaux which targeted colonial youth and students with their anti-colonial and pro-nationalist message. In fact, the communists’ expanding anti-colonial campaign was rooted in colonial youth. In addition to the colonial bureaux of the WFDY and the IUS, the CPGB likewise formed sub-committees dedicated to campaigning about colonial affairs, such as protests in Whitehall and supporting the nationalist aspirations of visiting colonial students.15

Visa applications, for example, from Cypriot and Hong Kong Chinese youth to attend university or the WFDY’s and the IUS’s massive festivals in Eastern Europe greatly troubled British authorities. While Whitehall scrambled to put together a viable counter-attraction, which materialized in 1949 as the under-financed World Assembly of Youth (WAY), the governors of Hong Kong and Cyprus considered ways in which they could prevent, dissuade, or, at the very least, monitor these youth delegations.16

In Hong Kong, Grantham looked towards education policies to prevent communist indoctrination and foster a pro-British mentality. The Cyprus governors, particularly Wright, on the other hand, sought measures to reject visa applications, prevent travel and, failing that, to deny re-entry. In fact, apart from school magazines, the only positive policy contemplated at any length by the Cyprus authorities was for the establishment of a university to serve the dual purpose of limiting the number of students studying overseas and of advancing British influence in the Middle East.17 It came to nothing.

British education efforts in Hong Kong bore much more fruit, which did not go unnoticed in the region. Although not within the jurisdiction of the commissioner-general for Southeast Asia, Hong Kong’s representatives always attended the annual conferences of education directors of British Southeast Asian territories (which ran between 1949 and 1961) and assumed a leading role in the discussion and development of anticommunist, pro-democratic education and youth policies, justified by the argument that as Hong Kong went, so did the region.

Youth was thus vital in the war of rival imperialisms. Colonial policies in this area included some of Britain’s most innovative programmes (such as WAY, new schools, and universities) as well as most repressive activities (such as espionage, imprisonment, and proscription) in the imperial Cold War.

 
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