The 12th General Assembly World Assembly of Youth, Kuala Lumpur, 3 April 1993
1.It may be purely a coincidence of time that this assembly is held almost twenty-five years after the outbreak of student and youth uprisings in many parts of the world. Some of us still remember the turbulent decade of the late Sixties and early Seventies and the difficulties it caused to the authorities and the established order, while giving hope to the youth for radical political, economic and social reforms. But certainly the time is ripe for us to reflect and ponder not only upon the contributions, and limitations of the youth movements of the past, but also on the future directions of the contemporary youth organizations.
2.Looking back, while we must admire the idealism that is so characteristic of the youth, our approval, nonetheless, have to be qualified. The external expressions of youthful activism of that time might have appeared similar but the motives and guiding ideas not only differed but were quite open opposed to one another. American and Asian students joined in protest against the escalation of the war in Vietnam, but what similarity could there be between the "flower children" or hippies, and narcissistic counter cultures among the youth of Europe and the United States, and the revolt of Asian youth against imperialism and social and economic inequities. In many parts of the Third World, most of the activism was directed against a political order rife with corruption and abuse of power.
3.For the youth in Asia at that time there was growing disenchantment towards the so-called development decade. The revolution of rising expectations brought about by the promise of wealth and prosperity became a revolution of growing frustration. The promise of development did not materialize, for not only were the approaches towards development fraught with weaknesses, but also because a lot of the development funds meant for the poor were either misappropriated or absconded with. This resulted in inequitable development which left the masses without any hope of improving themselves. At the same time, it was felt necessary for us to rediscover our authentic cultural traditions and revitalize moral values in the face of cultural imperialism as well as the moral decadence which had begun to erode the fabric of our Asian societies.
4.From the perspective of our time, the youth movements of the past were not able to free themselves from the ideological struggle of the Cold War period. Indeed some youth and even students organization became willing active fronts for a particular ideological position. Marxism, which for all intent and purpose is now dead, to some extent managed to corrupt the mind of the youth or even became the opium of the intellectuals to oppose growth and to distrust individual initiatives.
5.The youth movement two decades ago also found its intellectual articulation in intellectual development of the time. Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man gave a devastating critique of western civilization, especially its industrialism, and has inspired a generation of youth. Marcuse believed that Western society was unfree and repressive, that its technology had bought the complacency of the masses with material goods, and that it had kept them intellectually and spiritually captive. The book by Ivan Illich The Celebration of Awareness and Paolo Frierie's Pedagogy of the Oppressed exposed the silent and subtle domination perpetuated by even beneficial institutions such as schools. They advocated the reform of educational institutions to generate critical consciousness, since for them the purpose of education is conscientization. One must also agree that the youth movement of the time had also sown the seeds of environmental awareness, though their expression at then was more nostalgic and narcissistic than realistic. Nevertheless, the massive environmental damage wrought by greed in the last two decades had proven that at least they were on the right track.
6.The challenge facing the youth today is to redirect their energies and idealism to the peculiar circumstances of our times. Certainly we are confronted by a world very much different from 25 years ago. The Cold War is over. But the world is not totally free from strife and conflict. In place of the ideological East-West divide, an economic conflict is looming. In addition, the collapse of the old order, has pushed to the fore some of mankind's worst tendencies, such as racial and religious prejudices.
7.Unless the youth of today face up to the challenges of the 21st century, we cannot hope for a better world. The 21st century requires a new vision of the world, a world more faithful to ethics and universal values, less dependent on force and might. Our vision of mankind's future must encompass the rich diversity of man's cultural heritage. With the ideological struggle behind us, we are confronted with an economic struggle. But in the process we must not become mere economic and technological animals. Crucial may be the efforts to create wealth and develop new technologies, we must not lose sight of the cultural and moral dimension of our lives.
8.It is saddening that while the world is fast shrinking into a global village, we are witnessing some of the worst revivals of racial and religious hatreds. In the past, religion and nationalism had been a great liberating force for national independence and against the domination of man by man. Instead, religion has come to be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians, people bankrupt of ideas who thrive on extremism and manipulation of religious sentiments.
9.It is therefore imperative that the youth of today renew its commitment to ideals and its role as the voice of conscience. The youth movement must liberate itself both from the residual conflicts of the Cold War period as well as the newly rehatched prejudices of the post-Cold War era. It would be a betrayal of the idealism of the youth if the youth movement were to indulge in narrow parochial pursuits while the numbers of the poor and destitute continue to multiply. Thus truth, morality and mutual respect must be our guiding light. And in the place of strife and conflict, today's youth must be able to offer the world a vision of a collaborative community of nations.
10.Even as we enter the threshold of the new century, there are still many unresolved societal issues. For the developed industrial societies, the issue of governance remain a paramount concern. Otherwise, how can we explain the suffering of millions of unemployed, the rising tide of crime and the continued breakdown of the family. For developing societies, the effort to evolve a stable civil society, the eradication of mass poverty and the elimination of social malaise must proceed unabated. In the political sphere, the youth must contribute towards the maturing of the democratic process. We must not take democracy as a fetish or a kind of new technology, yet realize fully that it is within a freer society that we have the best chance of achieving our societal goals. The development of wealth would be meaningless without finally achieving the liberation of the human spirit. We must not see the effort to achieve greater material prosperity as incompatible with the aim of having greater openness and fewer constraints on individual expression and initiative. The sustainability of economic development and growth would very much depend on a parallel expansion of our intellectual and cultural horizons. Thus we must strive to strike a balance, to achieve freedom without degenerating into chaos and anarchy, to maintain discipline and order without rigid and oppressive authoritarianism.