The Left

More Goulash

While we’re on the subject of those with a nostalgia for Stalinism, I see that Zsuzsanna Clark, wife of the unsuccessful libel plaintiff and Slobo-fan, Neil Clark has another article in the Guardian. This time, the subject is: “didn’t we kids have a lovely time in Hungary, when we were all members of the Soviet Young Pioneers movement?”:

Twenty million Scouts around the world last week marked Founder’s Day, and with it the 100th anniversary of the Scout movement. Their celebrations offer a powerful reminder of the ability of youth movements to bring young people together in a spirit of friendship and solidarity – qualities that have become all too rare in modern Britain.

Many of the Pioneers’ activities were similar to the Scouts’, but the values were more collective and they involved all children and teenagers in the country, not just a minority. Pioneer membership was an integral part of school life, not just in Hungary, but throughout the socialist bloc.

Our motto as Pioneers was Together for Each Other. It was not an empty slogan: it was how we were encouraged to think. Being a Pioneer meant taking special care of the weak and vulnerable. We helped the elderly with their shopping and cleaning; we chopped up firewood for them and carried their coal in and out from the cellar. There were competitions, too: for collecting waste paper and waste metal, for sports activities and for other acts of good citizenship. But, reflecting the collective ethos of the movement, the prizes were nearly always for groups, not for individuals.

The comments are interesting.

A fellow called “Sudders” is enthused by Zsuzsanna’s account of how jolly life was before totalitarianism sadly crumbled, and chimes in with some recollections of his own:

We actaully have something in the UK that sounds similar to the Hungarian Pioneers – The Woodcraft Folk. Like the Hungarian Pioneers our the activities undertaken are superficially similar to those undertaken by the scouts. Games are played, crafts are taught, members do good works in the comunity and there are regular trips to the countryside with Hiking, camping and learning about nature. But also like the Pioneers the values of the Folk are different from the scouts. Set up and run entirely by young people as a direct rejection of the militarism, nationalism and religiosity of the scouts in 1925, the Woodcraft Folk aims to help young people “develop self confidence and activity in society with the aim of building a world based on equality, friendship, peace and co-operation”. The motto of the organisation is “span the world with friendship”. As members of the International Falcon Movement they undertake many international projects and exchanges – including with hungary.
I was a memeber from when I was 6 until when I was 21 and still help out occationally with running groups for younger people. More than anything other than my parents it made me who I am today – of course whether that is a good thing or not is a moot point.

“Richardlith” provides some context to the Young Pioneers movement:

The problem with the Pioneers is that when the Communist governemnt took power in Hungary in the 1940s, they put all the Scout leaders they could find in prison. Very community minded.

Incidentally, I see that Zsuzsanna Clark is still “writing a book on her experiences of growing up under communism in Hungary”, as she was in 2002. Must be a long book.


A CiF reader takes Zzzzanzzna to task:

Zsuzsanna, I beg to differ.

I was a Young Pioneer in East Germany (our slogan was Be Ready – Always Ready!) and remember well the old-bottle collecting, the acorn-collecting (for the poor deer in winter), the paper-collecting, the coal-shovelling etc. etc.

Yes, I totally agree that this, along with a strict emphasis on helping the weak and vulnerable, was vastly more productive than wanting to grow up to be Jordan.

However, I also remember our weekly assemblies in front of the flag, where we were reminded who the ‘Klassenfeind’ (enemy of the working class) was – namely all you decadent capitalists reading this blog! Children as young as 14 or 15 were sent off to militaristic training camps that masked as PE. My family left East Germany in 1984, when I was 11. And even I remember receiving training on an air rifle.

I also remember that after my parents had applied for leaving the country, those very honourable Young Pioneers kicked me and my brother out rather unceremoniously. Where we had previously received awards for our good marks, we were now shunned and ignored and endured more than a bit of finger-pointing by teachers.

You know what – my grandmother, who is now 80, sometimes reminisces about the BDM, the female Hitler Youth. You might not be surprised to hear that their range of activities was identical.

It’s not always easy, but I make an effort to remember the Russian soldiers posted close our town, who broke into allotments, dug out onions or went through wastebins and compost heaps for some food. Or the stories we regularly heard from the denizens of the Kassberg quarter in Chemnitz, who could sometimes hear screams from the nearby prison where those not quite agreeing with our Paradise on Earth were held.

Just a reminder that nostalgia is a tricky thing.