Eighty out of 100 Communist youth leaders in Hungary have no idea who is meant to be running their country.
That is the conclusion of a recently published public opinion poll that reveals the depth of political ignorance and apathy among young people throughout East Europe. The former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was described variously by those polled as "a U.S. president in the early 1960s," "the first man in space," and "the manager of a collective farm."
Perhaps the most startling fact about the poll is that it was conducted among those young Hungarians who are expected to know most about politics: officials of the Communist Youth League. They undergo extensive political training, and part of their job is to teach other young people Communist Party history and ideology.
Although the poll was confined to Hungary, there can be little doubt that it reflects a general mood among young people throughout the region. The explanation for it seems to lie in a mixture of cynicism about the value of political activity in an authoritarian state and reaction against the government's incessant attempts at ideological indoctrination.
The Hungarian pollsters discovered that, of the more than 800 youth leaders they questioned, 82 percent knew nothing or very little about the country's most broadly based political organization, the People's Patriotic Front. The Youth League itself comes under the Front's umbrella.
Only 8 percent knew the name of the Front's president and 3 percent its secretary general.
The youth leaders' knowledge of communist history turned out to be little better. Seventeen percent of those polled knew nothing about Lenin, 31 percent had no idea who Stalin was, and 42 percent professed ignorance about Khrushchev.
While most of the youth leaders had at least heard of Lenin -- a ubiquitour name in East Europe, if only because of the number of streets named after him -- the depth of their knowledge ended with the description of him as "a revolutionary" or "a Marxist." One youth put him in the wrong historical era by describing him as "a close friend of Marx and Engels," an understandable error since the three men often are featured together as a kind of communist holy trinity on billboards.
Meanwhile, Stalin was ingeniously described by one youth leader as "the former governor of Hungary during the Stalinist era." Another appeared to confuse him with Hitler by claiming he was "commander-in-chief of the Germans and was finally shot in the head."
Similar results have been recorded by pollsters in Yugoslavia where, as in Hungary, research into public opinion is relatively developed. A girl student typified the attitude of much of her generation when, asked what she thought of young political activists, she replied: "I think they are wasting their time since nothing depends on them anyway."
In a private conversation, a young Yugoslav office worker said he had joined the Communist Party purely because he thought membership would help his career.
"Among new party members, there are comparatively few who really believe in the ideology. Most of us join either because we are encouraged to or for what we can get out of it," he remarked.
Young people in the Adriatic port of Rijeka revealed their materialists aspirations in a poll by voting overwhelmingly for capitalist countries, notably Switzerland and Sweden, when asked where they would like to live other than Yugoslavia. Yet, when asked which social system they preferred, many opted for socialism. The pollsters blamed the apparent contradiction on "a lack of maturity."
A popular song at youth festivals here catches both the materialistic bent of a generation born after the war and the rugged love of independence that has characterized Yugoslavia's past. The words defend the interest of young people in music, fast cars, and long hair. Despite this, goes the refrain in a message to their worried elders: "You can rely on us."
Yugoslavia differs from other East European countries in that it broke away from the Soviet straitjacket in 1948 and pursues its own course. While many young Yugoslavs are apathetic about domestic politics, a much higher proportion insist that they would be prepared to die defending their country in the event of outside interference.
Within the Soviet Bloc itself, what one Yugoslav sociologist described as "the long-term hopelessness of their position" provides an additional reason for the futility of political involvement.
A Yugoslav university lecturer pointed out that there can be different kinds of apathy.
"There is the apathy which consists of nothing at all but placid fatalism -- and there is the type that hides deep-seated discontent. In other words, one kind if politically aware while the other is not."
It can sometimes be very difficult to tell one type of apathy from another. In early 1968, like today, there was much talk about the political indifference of young people. Just a few months later, several Yugoslav universities were shaken by the stormiest student riots and sit-ins since the Communists came to power.