Scouting Movement Enjoys Rebirth in Eastern Europe
Looking a little like an overgrown schoolboy, pensioner Vaclav Brichacek was close to tears.
Excusing his prewar scouting uniform, he told delegates from 110 countries gathered in Paris for the 32nd World Scouting Conference: “I never thought I’d wear it again.”
Boy Scouts are busy pitching their tents all over a part of the world that has been out of bounds for 50 years.
They may seem out of date to Western teen-agers, but to youngsters in reform-minded Eastern Europe, Lord Robert Baden-Powell’s movement is a symbol of their new-found freedoms.
Brichacek was visibly moved as he accepted the re-integration of Czechoslovak scouts into the 16-million strong world scouting fraternity this summer. The recently legalized Scouting Assn. of Hungary was also welcomed back into the fold.
After almost 20 years of declining membership in the West, the tens of thousands of Eastern European youngsters rushing to join up see the scouting movement as a benefit of democracy.
World Scouting Organization spokesman Mark Clayton said: “There’s scouting in Poland now, and we’ve had reports of scouting in the Balkans, Bulgaria and even Byelorussia.”
Even Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, thanking the scouts for a recent operation bringing children from Chernobyl, scene of a nuclear reactor disaster in 1986, on vacation to the West, described the movement’s goals as “noble and humanistic.”
He welcomed the opportunity for Soviet children to get to know it, creating speculation that even Soviet children may soon be tying knots and singing round the campfire in the traditional uniform.
“This marks quite a significant change,” said Jacques Moreillon, present general secretary of the World Scouting Organization.
“Up to now, scouting has been considered a bourgeois movement, preventing youth from seeing the true light of communism. It’s been attacked and criticized by almost every official publication” in Eastern Europe, he said.
Voluntary scouting was replaced in many Eastern European countries by compulsory Communist youth programs.
Czechoslovak Jiri Nirldk, who said he spent 11 years in a concentration camp for his commitment to scouting, sees an important role for his 70,000 new scouts, in “education after communism.”
But he is nervous of overreaction: “We are afraid of televisions and cars. We have to show kids that property is not the most important thing in the world.
“We have to show them that it’s better to do a thing badly yourself--singing, dancing or whatever--than to watch the greatest singer in the world do it on the television,” he added.
Laszlo Surjan, one of 16 ex-Boy Scouts who secretly re-started Hungarian scouting in a Budapest coffee shop 18 months ago, said Eastern Europe needs “a new generation of young people who understand the ideas of honesty, country, God.”
Scouting was introduced on Brownsea Island in southern England in 1907 by Baden-Powell, who hoped to help build a better future by training the adults of the future. Several U.S. Presidents are among its Western alumni.
Based on the ideals of duty to self, duty to others and duty to God, scouting went underground with the Communists, who gave themselves clandestine names like “Nature Lovers of Budapest” or the “Touristic Organization,” in Czechoslovakia.
Brichacek proudly shows a photograph of a 12-year-old boy at a scout camp--Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s best-known dissident who became president after the Communist authorities were ousted last year.
Scout leaders say the battle is not yet over. Alexandru Maldiny, who represents the 150 Romanian scouts, said he could only admit members who came with a recommendation. “Otherwise, you don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
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