Soviet Young Pioneers: Summer Camp


Figure 1.--These boys wear the uniforms used at the Soviet Young Pioneer Naval Camp "Karavella" in the during 1978. The berets and emblems and badges are quite different from the regular Young Pioneer camps.

An important part of the Young Pioneer experience was summer camp. Millions of Soviet children went to these camps, and summer camp became an integral part of Soviet childhood. I'm not sure how vountary they were. They reported varied greatly in quality. Like schools and stores for privlidged adults there were some very impressive camps and reportedly hard to get into. Most camps attended by the great bulk of the children were reportedly not very well equipped, although I have only limited sources of information. I'm not sure if the children were issued special uniforms for these camps, but red scarves, white shirts, and blue socks appear to have been the customary uniform. Millions of children were involved in these camps. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide us information about their experiences there.

Chronology

The Young Pioneers in the Soviet Union built a nation-wide systems of youth camps. Our information on the early camp program is very limited. I'm not sure when the first camps were built or what the early camps were like. We note that the "Artek" camp was opened in 1925. We see more camps in the 1930s, but except for Artek the camps sem very basic. Nor do we know who was selected to go to the early camps. A massive expansion of the summer camp program occurred after World war II in the 1950s. We do know that large numbers were operating by the 1960s. The Pioneer camp system operated more than 5,000 camps throughout the Soviet Union. [Kondorsky] Millions of children were involved in these Young Pioneer camps. There was no charge to participate. The Soviet Young Pioneer summer camp program is the most largest and most extensive program that HBC know about.

Individual Camps

Perhaps the best known Young Pioneer camp was the Artek camp in the Crimea. I believe that it may have been one of the first such camps organized for the Young Pioneers. It developed into a prestigious camp attended by the children of the Soviet elite. Another well known camp was Orlyonok on Russia’s Black Sea coast. While these camps were very well known, they were just a few of the hundreds of camps developed in the Young Pioneer summer camp system. Camps were set up throughout the Soviet Union. Most were set up after World war II when the Young Pioneer program was expanded. These regular Pioneer camps today are virtually unknown in the West. Millions of Soviet children passed through these camps and today have fond memories of them. Facilities varied greatly from camp to camp. They did not normally have all the facilities as the prestige camps, but many had ample facilities. These regular camps provided a summer program for virtually any child that was interested. Some children complained of the regimentation, but most enjoyed the experience. Many are still run as summer camps sponsored by a range of institutions in modern Russia.

Camp Experience

An important part of the Young Pioneer experience was summer camp. Millions of Soviet children went to these camps. Summer camp thus has long been an integral part of a Soviet Russian childhood. Almost all Soviet children spent time away from their parents at Young Pioneer camps where they received their communist indoctrination. I'm not sure how vountary they were. The program at the Young Pioneer Camps rmphasized team work and respect for order. There was also a healty dose of political indoctrination in communism. One assessment indicates, "The campers awoke to the ring of a bell, ran and swam to the blow of a whistle and marched to the beat of a Marxist-Leninist drum." [Martin] While camp facilities varied substantially, the program and regime was highly standardized. These were places designed to form the next generations of Soviet citizens and Communist Party members. As a result, Young Pioneer camps stressed discipline, morals and ideology. The children every morning and evening assembled for the "lineika," a drill with drums, trumpets, flag-raising and an oath of allegiance. [Kondorsky] I'm not sure what the children thought of the "lineika".

Activities

Pioner camps had many of the same activities as camps in the West. There was a greater emphasis on sports than was the case in Western camps. One Russian reader indicates that, "Camp activities were mainly sports. Unavoidable football (soccer), basketball etc." [Prokiof] Swiming was a major activity and most camps were located near a body of water for thar pirpose. There were also expeditions, camping, hikes, fishing, all kind of races etc. Some campers report that the atmopsphere was highly competive. There were many competioins among groups, rarely individuals. Singing and dancing performances and competitions of all sorts were very typical. Russian folk dances of the various Soviet national groups were commonly performed, but I'm not sure to what extent they were taught. Television was hardly ever allowed at the camps, but sometimes selected movies were shown. Arts and crafts, especially wood craft, seems less common than at American camps. A feature at every camp was morning and afternoon cermonies--a kind of parriotic drill called "lineika".

Camp Quality

They reported varied greatly in quality. Like schools and stores for privlidged adults there were some very impressive camps and reportedly hard to get into. Pioneer camps varied sunstantially in terms of facilities, especially lodging and other facilities. Meals also varied widely. Location was another variable. Especially important was proximity to bodies of water, forests, or other attractions. [Kondorsky] Most camps attended by the great bulk of the children were reportedly not very well equipped, although I have only limited sources of information. One observer indicates that except for the few well-equipped camps that they were rather boring places. A Russian reader writes, "Facities did vary. At least meals and medical care were always very good. The state carefully kept eye on that. Though some camps were lodged in buildings, some only had tents. They were almost always loacted rivers or lakes and in forest or other natural settings. Some were in suburbs and others in especially nice resort spots like the Crimea." [Prokiof] A Canadian author spent a summer in one of the showcase camps, but during the summer her group was taken for a visit to one of the regular camps. She was struck by the difference. She tells us, "To be honest I'm still so surprised the Soviet Government let westerners even see the regular camps and I can only guess that it was their own strange naivety." The Soviets running the camps having never visited the West had no idea about how far below American and Canadian standards these camps were. "Just read my experience at the regular camps in my book Lost in Moscow. It is really a fast fun sometimes-scary bizarre experience that is written so it reads like fiction even though it is true---I tell it through my 11-year-old eyes---I kept a day-to-day diary while I was in the USSR and I didn't miss a day. [Koza]

Popularity

We note a variety of reports concerning the popularity of the camps. Some children apparently did not like them. One writer reports that what many Soviet children wanted during the summer was relief from the discipline that they got at school. Some children complained that at the camps they had the "live by the bell with exercises and activities all on schedule." [Smith, p. 205] A Russian HBC reader tells us that he and his friends enjoyed te camps. "Sports, meals and medical care were usually very good. My parents also liked the idea. It gave them a bit of a rest." [Prokiof]

Participation

We believe that a very large number of Soviet children particiapted in summer camp programs. Unlike the Pioneers themselves, choice was involved as to participation in summer camps. The camps were free or very inexpensive so children from all walks of life could participate. One Russian reader estimates that in the post-World War II era into the 1980s that about 60 percent of all school age children went to camp. Most went for 1 month sessions. About 30 percent attended for 2 months and 10-15 percent speant their entire summer in camp. [Prokiof] The children's parents had to sign up for camps, they were not automatically asigned by Pioneer Group or if they had to sign up. We think that the children looked forward to these camps. Every kid i the Soviet era was a Pioneer. Most perks in Soviet society were awarded to ranking Communist Party officials. Summer camps in this regard were somewhat different. Most Soviet children got to attend camps of some kind. Of course elite families had opportunities for nice vacations in which they could take their children or they could send their children to one of the best camps in the Pioner system like Artek. But most children were able to attend some kind of camp. One Russian observer writes, "... admission to the many well-appointed Pioneer camps was granted to children of distinguished workers and intellectuals, winners of various competitions and orphaned and disabled children." [Kondorsky] Campers went as individuals. The Pioneer unit was the school class. But children did not go to camp as a sdchool group. A Russian reader tells is, "Rather the family chose the camp. So at camp Soviet kids met new friends. Often because of the friends thaey made there they chose to go to the same camp several years at row." [Prokiof]

Cost

I am not sure about the cost, if any, of early Pioneer camps. Accounts vaey. Passes to all Pioneer camps by the 1980s were issued free or at heavily sunsidized prices--usually no more than 15 rubles for the normal 24-day stay. This would have been about 10 percent of the monthly pay of a Soviet worker. [Kondorsky] A reader tells us that the state (or trade-union) typically paid 50-75 percent of the cost. [Prokiof] A former camper provides us more detail. "Camp fees at Orlyonok worked like this: 70 percent of the 2,800 children at Orlyonok were there because of exceeding either in a particular area of school studies or in athletics or music and their stay was paid for entirely by the Soviet government (as was the stay of the international children/guests--we just had to pay airfare over to the USSR and the rest was paid for by their government). 15% of the Soviet children had the bill footed by their parents' unions and 15% had to pay half the price, which was about $45.00 CAD in 1977 and the other half was paid for by the collective farm that their parents worked at or by their parents' trade unions." [Koza, E-mail]

Gender Organizations

We believe that Soviet Young Pioneer camps were coed camps, but again have little information. Some of the vailable images suggest that the camps were coeducational. Again we have no actual first-hand accounts to substantiate this. Many of the images at camp show the children in separate boy and girl units at the same camp. We are not sure to what extent the actual program was integrated. We do not know if there were some activities specifically for boys and some specifically for girls and if somwhich activities. We are less sure about the specialized camps such as those for the marine or sea pioneers. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide us some details.

Food

The Soviet Union had some of the richest agricultural land in the world. As a result of Stalin's forced collectivization, agriculture became one of the country's weakest economic sectors. Even so I assumed that the children attending Young Pioneer summer camps would have good if plain food. Here we have different reports. A Canadian who attended one of the prestigious camps reports that she and the other Canadians in the group were astounded at the food they were served and they all lost weight while at the camp. In particular they missed vegetables and fruit and especially milk. A Russian reader on the other hand tells us that the food at the camps he attended was plentiful and good and the Soviet children gained weight. These two accounts are rather difficult to reconsile.

Nationality Organization

The Soviet Union was a multi-national state dominated by the Russians. Many of these different natianlaities are now separate states. We are not sure how the simmer camps were organized and to what extent the different nationalities were mixed at the camps. We do not know, for example, if the children were assigned to summer camps in Pioneer units or as individuals. If they went as units there would have been less mixing than if they had been assigned individually. We note that one former-Sovier official, Tetyana Goncharova, now working for the Ukranian Federation of Children's Organizations and a summer camp director says that in the Soviet Young Pioneer camps, children came from accross the Soviet Union to participate in Crimean camps. [Martin] Large scale transport of Soviet children long distances would have been very expensive. We are not sure how extensive such long trips actually were. Most Soviet children may have gonde ro summer camps closer to home which would have meant less mixing of nationalities. A HBC reader writes, "The main idea of "Artek" (and other elite camps) was "the friendship of all peoples/nations of the USSR". So the children from all the USSR republics had had their reserved quotes at these elite camps." [Prokiof] We are unsure why this was a special feature of the prestigious camps like Artek.

Regular Summer Camp

As far as we can tell, there were great variations in the facilities at the Young Pioneer camps. Some of them apparently had very limited facilities. Here hopefully our Russian readers will provide us some information on the camps that they attended. We have a report from a Canadian who visited a regilar camp while she was attending one of the presige camps. "They had the one 'modern' building which was like a small school, filled with classrooms and the administration (the art class with no art supplies). And then there were very very rustic shacks all around the perimeter with no facilities ... hard to imagine spending ones entire summer penned up there. One would have been better off staying at school for the entire year I'd think. We didn't even see playing fields of any kind. In talking to some of the Canadians that were with me at Orlyonok (Mary, Dee Dee, Alexi and Oksana) a few years ago---they too were baffled as to why the Soviets, so intent on showing us how wonderful the USSR was, would have taken us to a regular pioneer camp. Otherwise we'd have left thinking Orlyonok was the norm and that all Soviets had cosmonaut training during their summer holidays. The impact---the difference between the two camps---was massive. We were at the five star luxury resort. We were all hit with the inequity of the camps. You sure wouldn't have wanted to be a "normal" kid in the USSR." [Koza-10/03/05]

Prestigious Summer Camps

Theoretically the Communist Soviet system was based on equality. In reality, there was an elite composed of party officials, military officers, scientists, and others. These individuals had access to many advantages such as access to special stores, foreign travel, quality medical care, good schools, better apartments, and a variety of other advanatges. One of these was access to a number of prestigious summer camps, such as the Artek Pioneer camp in Crimea. [Martin] These camps were not only prestigious camps for the party elite, they were also showcase camps for publicity purposes. We think that the prestigious camps tended to giv more ttention to uniforms than the regular camps. Er have begun to collect information on the prestigious camp uniforms.

Specialized Camps

HBU at his time has little information on how the Soviet summer camp program was organized. We do not know how they were set up and differentiated in age and gender. We do know that childen were individually assigned to camps rather than by school groups. Children probably attended local camps, but many children attended camps in the Crimea or other areas located far from home. We know that there were some specialized camps like one for the Marine (Naval) Young Pioneers "Karavella" in the Crimea. We also note that the Singing and Dancing Ensemble of V. Loktev had a specialized camp.

Bolshoi Choir Group

Some Pioneers appears to have attended summer camp as part of group. We note, for example, the Bolshoi Choir attending the Artex Summer Camp. It was the most prestigious camp in the Pioneer camp system. The Choir appears to have attended Young Pioneer camps together where they wore the standard Pioneer uniform during a 1978 visit to the Artec Young Pioneer camp. The choir are dressed in a pioneer camp uniform. This was shirt, neckerchief and shorts, sandles for boys. Same for girls, except they wore matching skirt. The photographs show a variety of activities. They seem to be on holiday and not there to perform. They are photographed at local beauty spots relaxing. At the camp some can play musical instruments for a group are gathered round a piano while one boy plays and the others are singing or listening. There is a picture of a room and the child is making their bed.Other rooms are the table tennis recreation room, the dinning hall and reception area. We see nothing destinctive about the Pioneer uniform the choir wore. It appears to be the standard Pioneer camp unifirm. We note that the choir sang at some camp functions.

International Exchanges

The question of Young Pioneer international exchanges is an interesting one. And one we do not yet fully understand, but we have begun to collect some information. Communism is in theory an international movement. One might expect that the Soviet Young Pioneer movement would organize international exchanges or even events such as Scout Jamborees bring children or at least Young Pioneer from different counties together. This may have occurred, but we have no information to substantiate that it did. There were no excanges with Scouting groups that we know of. There were, however, after World War II, Young Pioneer organizations in many European and Asian nations. The international vision of Communism was often tempered with a Soviet fear of contaminating its youth with foreign influences. Thus we are unsure to what extent the Soviet Young Pioneers promoted international excahanges. We do know there were foreign children hosted at Soviet Young Pioneer camps, but I have no information about Soviet children going to other countries. One observer notes that there were quotas at Pioneer camps for children from Soviet satellite states. [Kondorsky] I'm not sure if these children just went to the most prestigious camps or if all Young Pioneer camps had foreign children, but as far as I can tell it was just the prestigious camps. A Russian reader tells us that there were plenty of foreign children at Pioneer camps, especially children from Eastern European satellite countries and developing countries. One informal estimate suggests that in the prestious camps such as Artek that about 50 percent of the foreign children were from Eastern European satellites and 50 percent from Asia (Vietnam, North Korea, Mongolia, Afghanistan, India, China) and from Africa and Cuba. These children commonly appear in publicity photographs. We note an African boy in a photograph when General Secretary Brezhnev visited Artek in 19779. Sometimes there were a few children from Italy, France, Latin America, Spain (typically the children or relatives of leaders of communist parties in those countries). I believe, very rarely, from other countries of Western Europe and the United States. Foreign children were espically prevalent at "Artek" several other of the most prestigious camps and less common at ordinary Pioneer camps. [Prokiof] This presumably was to show the best image to the foreign children. Other reasons may have been involved such as to limit possible "contamination" of Russian children with foreign ideas.

Camp Uniform

HBC at this time has little information on what type of uniforms were worn at Soviet Young Pioneer summer camps. We have no first hand accounts , but can deduce some information from avilable images. Most of the images we have seen show the children wearing uniforms at the camps. I'm not sure if the children were issued special uniforms for these camps, or if the children's parents had to buy them. Most of the available images are from the 1970s and 80s. We do not know what the uniforms wre like eralier or indeed even if they had uniforms. Most of the children we have noted wear red campaign caps, red scarves, white shirts, and blue short pantys, and white socks with non-uniform sandals or sneakers. While this appears to have been the customary uniform. We have notice boys wearin didderent iniforms such as berets and dark shirts (figure 1). We believe this may have been the uniform at one of the specialist camps. Idealized pictures also show the boys wearing red caps and white kneesocks. I'm not sure how common this turn out was. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide us some details.

Pionerlager

One wonders what the enduring impact on the children, now all adults, was of their Pioneer camp experience. One observer reports, "Though the times when children in Russia were obliged to join political organizations are over, the word "pionerlager" (a compound construction for "Pioneer camp") persists. The term is still widely used, not only by die-hard Communists but in the media and among the most devoted advocates of democracy and market economics." [Kondorsky]

Disposition

We have no information at this time as to what has happened to all the Young Pioneer camps located accross the country when the Soviet Union dissolved at the end of 1991. Many of those camps have since closed or been taken over by other organizations. Some have continued to operate under different sponsors and owners. One observer estimates in 2002 that about 3,000 Pioneer camps had survived. He reports that many have been well maintaine, even renovated, although a "fair number" are run-down. Some of tghe remaining state-run enterprises anf government agencies still provide free or subsidized passes to the camps for their employees’ children, but this practice is declining. It is still most common for companies and organizations involved in the highly profitable raw-material industries. [Kondorsky] The programs at such camps are little changed from Soviet days, although ideological training is no longer involved. Other camps may have been privatized. We note one Pioneer camp which has become a Jewish camp--Gan Israel. We have some information on the Ukraine, but gew details about Russia and other post-Soviet states.

Individual Experiences

I do not know of many individual accounts about the Young Pioneers in general or the Pioneer summer camp experience specifically. I do not know if this is because little has been published or if they have been published in Russia and not translated. We do, however, know of a few interesting accounts. A Pioneer Girl in Tajikistan while it was still part of the Soviet Union has provided some information about her camp experience. Another delightful account is Kirsten Koza's book Lost in Moscow about her summer camp experiences in the USSR during 1977. She tells us, "My book is a hilarious account of the summer that my Canadian parents sent me to a Soviet camp for the entire summer---no phoning home! And it includes some pictures of life at Orlyonok--there are also photos on my website and that's just a fraction of what I have."

Sources

Kondorsky, Alexander. "Sending kids to summer camp," The Russia Journal, June 21, 2002.

Koza, Kirsten. Lost in Moscow (2005).

Koza, Kirsten. E-mail messages, September 25 and 26, 2005.

Koza, Kirsten. E-mail message, October 3, 2005. Kirsten describes this visit in some detail in her book, Lost in Moscow.

Martin, J. Quin. "Camping for the New Pioneers", August 16, 2001.

Prokiof, Ivan. E-mail message, October 2, 2002.

Smith, Hedrick. The Russians (New York: Ballanentine, 1975), 775p.

Focus on Friendship Vol. 1, Number 10 1977. This was the Canada-USSR Association Inc's newsletter.







HBU





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Created: June 3, 2001
Last updated: 8:19 AM 4/28/2007