90 years of the Junak scout organization in the Czech Republic


The Czech scout organization, Junak, is currently celebrating 90 years of its existence. Last Saturday, Junak clubrooms throughout the country held an open day to let their members' parents and all those who'd like to learn more about this organization get acquainted with the life and activities of young Czech scouts. Alena Skodova visited one scout group and has this report:

The history of Czech scouting dates back to the year 1911, when Antonin Banjamin Svojsik, the founder of Scouting in this country, visited scouts in Britain. The next year, Svojsik and several colleagues issued a basic scouting handbook and set up this country's first scout camps. Junak's first girls' company came into existence in 1915. Before WW II Junak was the third biggest scout organization in Europe and the seventh biggest in the world.

Over the 90 years of its existence, Junak has been banned three times. The Czech scouts were first banned by the Nazis during WWII. During the war, many scouts joined the resistance movement at home and abroad and some 700 paid for their loyalty to the Scout ideals with their lives. When the Communists came to power in 1948, they too made the organisation illegal, though restrictions were eased for a time during the Prague Spring. When the Soviet tanks rolled in in 1968, the scouts were again forced underground. The organisation was to remain illegal until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. Since then the Junak organization has grown considerably and now has more than 55,000 members.

On Saturday I went to a clubroom, belonging to a girl scout group which calls itself The Big Bear in the Prague 2 district. While the girls went out for a walk in the nearby park, I spoke with their two leaders, Kveta Martinkova and Eliska Kaprasova:

"We have been in this clubroom since 1994. When we moved here, we renovated the clubroom all by ourselves. It has been decorated by the girls to make it as cozy as possible. Everything around us here reflects our group's scouting life, all the photographs, chronicles and souvenirs from summer camps we organize each year."

Eliska told me that girls who become scouts go through many unforgettable experiences. They learn new facts about nature, about their country and its history, about the history of scouting, in the form of playing various games. Once a week some 6 or 7 scouts meet in what are known as patrols under the leadership of their advisor, who is a bit older. Then once a month the patrols gather in units - that's around 30 children, and more units form a centre.

Of course going camping is a big part of scouting life - Kveta described a typical scout camp.

"Every year, a scouting camp is organized in July with the aim of teaching young scouts to be independent. They sleep in tee-pees, which they erect themselves, they do all the shopping, cook for themselves and have to guard the camp at night. In winter, we spend a week in the mountains and learn to ski."

I learned that the Big Bear unit had about 20 members from 6 to 13 years of age, and Eliska told me that she herself has been a Junak member for 10 years, and said that what she had experienced as a scout she wouldn't be able to learn anywhere else. But more people kept coming to the clubroom, with their kids - future scouts - looking curious and excited, and I only regretted I was not young enough to collect all those big childhood experiences which one remembers for the rest of one's life.