Extracurricular time

Primer characters from behind the Iron Curtain remained under the influence of the school even after the last bell, and also when the final pages of textbooks showed more or less organized holidays.165 They remained pupils and the school quite decisively interfered with their leisure time.

School actions

Primers depicted students participating in such school actions as collecting waste paper or rags, which were presented as fun and rewarding activities. Even if there were difficulties, for example, people in the village had forgotten to prepare things to be collected, together they managed to solve all the issues.166 Only one German primer asked the question: “why do we collect waste paper?”167 while in other books the very activities seem to be more important than the goal.

In Czech, Romanian and Bulgarian primers, children planted trees “as a communal effort”168 and in a Yugoslav primer written in Albanian they repaired damaged barbed wire (!) around their school grounds.169 Czech children in the early 1950s were eager to join "the brigade,” which in one of the reading passages handled the clearing of snow around the school, with a division of labor: there was a boss, and two boys were pulling a trolley with snow loaded by other children.170 In another reading passage from the same primer, pupils together built a house on the edge of a forest,171 while in another Czech book they took care of the roses in the school garden.172 Albanian pupils worked voluntarily in a cooperative greenhouse (which they were delighted about) and collected autumn leaves to use as fertilizer for school flowers in spring, or they carried stones to adorn the path to their school.173 Russian children loved to spend time in the school library.174

Children sometimes also performed on stage, in shows175 or singing in the choir.176 These reading passages were probably intended to encourage students to become involved in similar undertakings in the real world.

The activity of communist youth organizations

The activities mentioned earlier were often organized not by the school, but by a youth organization, such as the Pioneers. On the one hand, membership thereof was presented as something obvious, because all pupils belonged to it, and on the other hand, as something special that children awaited right from kindergarten.177

Thus, primers showed the ceremonies of Oktyabryata (Little Octobrists) admission in the USSR, Little Drummers in Hungary and Pioneers in the GDR or Yugoslavia. In the illustrations, one could see children dressed in festive clothes and their older schoolmates wearing organization uniforms, who were pinning badges on their clothes or doing up their scarves.178

In some countries, the content of the organization’s oath and the commitments either to be a good pupil or to help others were also highlighted.179 One Hungarian primer quoted the six principles for the Little Drummer: he is a faithful son of the Hungarian nation; likes and respects friends and teachers; is a diligent pupil; helps others, always tells the truth; is clean, tidy and punctual; lives in the hope of being a good Pioneer, good enough to be granted a red Pioneer scarf.180

The Pioneers’ "good deeds” were mentioned in many of the reading passages. An ideological element was often added to stories that were otherwise known as stories about good children. When, in a Czech primer from the early 1950s, children helped a sick classmate catch up with school work, or cleared the road, they shouted "Petiletka, Petiletka!” [Five-year-plan! Five-year plan!].181 Thus, whatever good they did was regarded as their contribution to the implementation of the five-year plan. Those who gave their seat to an elderly person on a tram or train,182 helped an elderly woman carry her groceries home183 or helped her to get up when she accidentally fell were presented as Pioneers (it was additionally explained that the elderly people they helped were not members of their families and that a Pioneer helps others on principle).184 Whereas in the 1946 Russian primer, three boys were making a wooden shelf and cleaning their place of work afterward, the primer of 1949 presented them as Pioneers.185

There is a certain absurdity in a story from a Hungarian primer, in which children visited a sick classmate and brought her a squirrel that they had caught on the way. The girl, however, asked them to release the animal saying that animals should be free. When the squirrel reported that to its mother (sic!), when asked about the girl’s name it answered that it did not know her name, but it knew she was a Pioneer.186 By the way, a squirrel also appeared in a Soviet reading passage where Pioneers were collecting cones and seeds in the forest. Natasha did not allow her friend to take them out of a tree hollow, because they were the squirrel's supplies.187

Another Hungarian Pioneer brought an old man a jug of water from a well188 (at this point, the image of the real world is revealed, in which access to tap water was not common, contrary to all the stories about modernity). A girl from a Czech primer, who was helping her younger sister to prepare to go off to school (she brushed her hair, poured coffee for breakfast), was a Pioneer.189 A Hungarian boy, who repaired his brother's toy car also was wearing a red scarf,190 and a Russian Pioneer Mitya noticed a kite caught on a pole while walking nearby. He stopped, took it down and handed it over to the anxious children, so that they could continue playing.191

Pioneers went to kindergarten to bring toys and read fairy tales to children, to the great joy of the audience.192 They saw first-grade pupils off193 and then visited them at school in order to help them look after the plants in the classroom,194 tell stories195 or stage a performance.196 They invited them to their classroom film screenings197 or sports classes outdoors,198 and organized New Year games for kids and gave them presents.199 Interesting riddles in a Croatian primer were also presented by a Pioneer, although they were completely non-ideological.200 Thus, Pioneers' activities appeared to be attractive and provided an opportunity to promote the organization, for example, by this oath: “Every Pioneer learns well, helps classmates, young children, and mother.”201

Pioneers worked in a kolkhoz,-0- helped to collect onions from the field203 or seeds in a park or a forest204 and waste paper from residents,205 fed birds in winter,206 cleared and embellished the grounds,207 planted trees208 or even took part in building the motorway.209 They helped their sick classmates catch up with school work.210

In the pictures their scarves were displayed even on working clothes, and sometimes they walked in the field wearing white shirts.211 The Pioneer uniform appeared on various occasions.212 In Romanian, Albanian, Soviet and even Czech and Hungarian primers (but only from the 1950s), the scarf was a permanent element of a child’s outfit, not only at school, but also at home.213

Pioneers took part in the celebration of holidays: May Day parades,214 New Year parties215 or public holidays.216 They organized evening parties and concerts at school.217 They proudly carried banners,218 prepared decorations219 and bulletin boards.220 The Soviet Pioneers greeted the veterans and handed them flowers.221

Yugoslavian primers put a particular emphasis on the joys of the life of Pioneers. The Yugoslav Pioneers danced a “Pioneers' circle,” sang Pioneers’ songs, played the trumpet and the drums222 and traveled in a Pioneers' train.223 Another manifestation of the Pioneers' joyful life in various countries was their summer camps,224 which were something that young primer characters always dreamt about225 and which were never a time of mindless entertainment. For example, a Czech Pioneer during his vacation built a small mill powered by river current.226

The Yugoslav Pioneers were considered to be Tito’s assistants, with their motto, often repeated in primers: "We are Tito’s and Tito is ours.’’227 Ernest Thalmann, in turn, was the patron of German Pioneers. The primers presented him as an activist of the labor movement and anti-fascist who died in a concentration camp.228 In the 1950s and early 1960s, primers often included an account of the Pioneers' meeting with Walter Ulbricht, the GDR communist party leader of that time.229 More biographical details of the communist leaders are discussed in Chapter 1.

The communist organization for the youngest children in Hungary was known as the Little Drummers (Kisdobos) and a drum was an inseparable attribute of its members.230 Primers from other countries mentioned the joy of playing on a drum, but in a rather non-ideological manner.231

Yugoslav primers contained reading passages which depicted the profiles of eminent Pioneers who were war heroes,232 but also of contemporary Mica, who saved a train by waving his red scarf when he noticed that there were no tracks in a section ahead (the book did not explain why the track was missing).233

The least information about youth organizations was published in Polish primers. There was only one text about Polish Scouts and Soviet Pioneers in the 1950s (in subsequent editions, the same words referred to children from different countries in general): "Many of them live far from here and speak a different language. But if we get to know each other and play together, we are bound to make friends with one another.”234 In the 1970s and 1980s, scouts went to commemorate the battle of Studzianki with flowers and songs.235 The Polish scouts' cross was among the emblems of youth organizations from various socialist countries presented by an Eastern German primer.236

As far as post-war Western European primers are concerned, only a Portuguese one contained an illustration of boys in uniforms with their hands extended in a greeting gesture when the word "hand” was introduced.237

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >