May 01, 2009

When I Was A Pioneer.

The 1st of May is observed in many countries as a public holiday. Even here in Scandinavia the day is celebrated with public gatherings, speeches and demonstrations. For most of us though, it is still a normal working day.
However, I remember clearly that this was a BIG day in the former communist bloc, where I grew up.

Sometimes when I recall periods of time from my past, they seem almost like they belong in some other life. Thinking back now, reaching into my memory, some of the recollections are as amusing as they are surreal. Some of the reminiscence, so proximate in some ways, due to its strange content seem so very distant nevertheless.

In my childhood, most of which was spend in the former Czechoslovakia, the 1st of May was labelled as International Workers' Day and celebrated avidly.
I recall this day particularly at the time when I was a pioneer. Already from childhood, the doctrines of communism were projected onto us through this youth organization, which was loosely based on the scout movement. However, the pioneer movement was political. As a child, I really did not have any clues about politics and the pioneer organization and our membership in it was something very natural to me and my peers at that time. Although considered "voluntary", everyone joined. Not to become a pioneer was unheard of and would most likely have grave consequences.

As far as I recall, at the age of around nine or ten, we joined the movement through an "inauguration ceremony" and thereby left the organization of so called "Little Sparks", which preceded the pioneers. Being a member included wearing a uniform, which changed slightly over the years. In the seventies when I was a pioneer, it consisted of a light blue shirt and dark grey-blue trousers or skirt (girls were not allowed to wear trousers). The red scarf that had to be tied in a particular way around the neck, leaving one end longer than the other and a pioneer pin worn on one pocket of the shirt, completed the uniform.

The pioneers were an important part of the communist society and were even depicted on the old ten crowns bank note, as seen here. Each school class elected a leader of the pioneers and I recall being a leader for a few years. It was an extreme honour and prestige to be elected. The duties of the leader were versatile; such as organizing meetings and "after school" activities, helping the teachers, appointing various tasks between members and taking care of the class message board and the yearly scrap book. Most importantly, it meant actually leading your class when marching during ceremonies and even reporting to higher-ranking officials within the organization, at special occasions. There were slogans and pledges, which we had to memorize and repeat in greetings that were accompanied by a salutation, identical to the one of the military; raising your right hand with outstretched fingers to your forehead, with the palm pointing downwards.

Our uniforms were always worn during particular commemorations and observances, most of them of political nature, usually including celebrations linked to the communist party. The 1st of May day was one of them. We would gather in front of the school in the early morning, carrying flags and special flowers and large signs with political slogans and inscriptions. The whole school would start marching at one point, in an organized fashion into the city to join the official 1st of May parade that consisted of workers, academics, students - everyone in the active age had to participate. I recall how we would be freezing at times, as May would still be cold and even rainy.

To be honest, I never paid much attention the slogans we were shouting. "Long live the communist party!", "Long live the Soviet Union!" I remember always just having fun with my friends; we told jokes, laughed at the weather and waved at the onlookers. When the familiar tunes of the Internacionala would be streaming out of the speakers, we would sing along with everyone else, not really paying attention to the lyrics or the meaning of the occasion. We were children and as any children anywhere, we were innocent.

Today I am not sure to what extend the pioneer organization still exists. Called Pionýr in the Czech republic, it seems to still be active, although it is non-political. It's slogans, it's logo and it's focus has changed and would probably have very little to do with the movement I once took part in.


Reasons said...

Fascinating to hear about this Protege. If only we could capture some of the discipline these polital organisations instilled without the political doctrine, things might be better in the western world. (I include myself in that, I am no preacher, I need disciplining too!) No doubt much of the good things you picked up are still with you today and the rest, as you say, washed over you.

Thank you so much for sharing this.

Hilary said...

This truly is a wonderful look inside of a time and culture. I love reading about your childhood experiences. Similar, and yet so different.

swenglishexpat said...

I agree with the previous comments, there certainly were some good values in that organisation, which is now part of (your) history. When did you move to "our" home town, Malmö?

Mahmud Yussop said...

I love this post. It intriques me how you managed to live through the communist system days. Is it as bad as I'm made to think? Indoctrination, spies and harsh punishment, uniforms ? Anyway the link gives much useful information to start with. The communist did try to overrun our country after the Japanese left but they failed and their insurgency thwarted by the local and British forces( and Australian army).After which the British gave us self-rule and we formed a new political entity called 'Malaysia'.We now believe in democracy.

Diane said...

We had the Pioneers here (my brother was one) but it was just an alternative to the Boy Scouts, I think.

It's interesting, isn't it, how kids are immersed in things like that but don't realize the significance... at least not right away, anyway. And thank heavens for that, I suppose (in some cases). It's part of the reason I keep Ryan from church. I want her to find her own spiritual path (and I do introduce her to different religions), but I believe it's something best done when a person is an adult and can see more clearly.

Beverlydru said...

Reading his post was like reading a chapter in a novel where the main character is someone very dear. Fascinating.


I almost forgot today was Friday, this week flew by in a flash for me. Just yesterday was Monday morning.. :)

Happy Friday, lady! Keep it gorgeous and positive :)


Holly said...

The stories of your childhood always fascinate me, does the way in which you tell them. You bring your stories to life. What amazing memories you have and what a well rounded person you are!!

Zuzana said...

=Reasons to be Cheerful...,
I know what you mean about the discipline. I guess the times we grew up in were slightly different, at least they were for me. I think more than discipline, I was taught respect for the older generation and for authorities. For better or for worse, this I find to be missing the younger generation.
Thank you so much for your wonderful comment.;)

so right you are, at times I feel due to the communism regime, my childhood was in time that was about 10-20 years behind the west.
Always glad when you stop by, dear friend, hope your weekend is lovely:;) xo

my family emigrated to Sweden, Malmo in 1980. I remember it clearly,as it was a very strange (adventurous) trip, that took us through half of Europe by car and boat.;)

your question is a very interesting one and I think it would need more than a few lines to answer adequately. Clearly, the ideology of communism is very idealistic and impossible to bring into reality. The regime I grew up with was greatly imposing on our overall personal freedom in respect to freedom of speech, of travel of political views. It created a society that isolated its members from the truth; eventually very few people trusted the politicians or the news media, but it created a society where movies and plays always had a double meaning. Eventually, I guess the only positive thing I remember was zero unemployment and free health care But the quality of the health care is questionable, and the unemployment was there but just well camouflaged. The society did not work and the future was hopeless, thus my family decided to emigrate.;)
If you would like to read more, it might interest you to visit this site:

yes it was very similar to the scouts, except this was a political organization and everyone had to join.;)
I remember that I thought very little about the cause or the meaning; however I am sure if we stayed in Czechoslovakia I would very quickly start to question the whole organization.;)
Hope you are having a lovely weekend.;)

thank you so much for your lovely words.;) They mean the world to me.;)xo

I never ever forget that it is Friday, I count the days from one Friday to the next.;)
Hope you are having a great weekend.;) xo

as always, your words are full of generosity and kindness. I am glad you find this interesting and not too mundane and boring.;)
Always love when you stop by.;) xo

sallymandy said...

This is fascinating, Z! Thank you so much. As a student of history, in the early 1980s I was in college and especially interested in Soviet history and that of the Eastern bloc countries. I feel very privileged to read this account of your childhood is Czech and the Pioneers. You tell it so easily, like it's no big deal, but this has made my morning richer and I appreciate it. Thank you! This is the one of the reasons I love blogging!

Zuzana said...

thank you for this incredible comment. You have a genuine interest in other cultures; I find that very appealing in people. You have no idea how happy your words have made me. The fact that someone who I never met finds something from my past so interesting, warms my heart.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

The life that you have led is such a fascinating one, Z, and in a time when much of this will be pushed to the back of drawers and dustily forgotten, it is powerful that you have recorded it here... So important to record our memories and how things felt for us - for social history is so easily lost. Love to you for living through all this, and being such a calm and almost ethereal spirit, Z! xox

Zuzana said...

you know I never thought my life was special nor interesting, but I guess looking back as an adult there has been some experiences.;) Lot of it I owe to my parents, who are the ultimate adventurers.;)
Today, the early part of my life starts to become more and more intriguing the older I get.;) Thank you for your -as always- wonderful words.;)

Claus said...

What an interesting, history-filled, entry! Thank you so much for sharing!
I agree: children's innocense will forever exist, even in environments that later might be seen not the best ones. But in that moment, it was normality and part of one's life.
You have the best entries Protege!

Zuzana said...

thank you for taking your time to read all my recent post and leaving meaningful and kind comments; that means a lot to me.
I am glad that you find them interesting and worth your while.;))