Czechs mark anniversary of revival of scouting movement during Prague Spring

Czech scouts, photo: Filip Jandourek

Members of the Czech scouting movement are marking the 50th anniversary the movement’s short-lived revival in communist Czechoslovakia in 1968. The scouts were banned a total of three times in their more than 100-year-long history in the Czech lands: first by the Nazis and then twice by the Communist regime.

Czech scouts, photo: Filip Jandourek
I spoke to the Czech scouts’ media contact Jakub Ambrožek about the history of the movement here.

“It’s often said that scouting and totalitarianism are mutually-exclusive. This is something which the history of Czech scouting speaks of very richly. There were three occasions when scouting here was banned before it was re-established at brief intervals. The first ban was in 1940 by the Nazis. Many scouts remained active illegally during WWII and many actively participated in or helped the resistance. About seven hundred scouts died. After the war, there was a huge resurgence in membership and the numbers swelled to more than 100,000.

“In 1948, of course, the Communists came to power and that spelled the end. The Communists couldn’t tolerate a movement which puts an emphasis on individual opportunities and focusses on independent thought.”

The ban was lifted in 1968 – briefly for three years…

“That’s right. The Prague Spring saw many people lining up to join but once Soviet tanks rolled in it was clear it again wouldn’t last. It ended in 1970.”

Many scouting traditions nevertheless survived and were again revived for good after 1989…

“Absolutely. In the 1970s, scout chapters faced the difficult decision of whether to try and continue illegally in secret or whether to join official structures and to try to maintain those values within the official apparatus. There is a film called Skauty bez lilie (Scouts without the Lily) which covers that very topic and is available with subtitles in English.

“It’s quite an incredible story. After 1989, there were no more bans of course and next year we will celebrate 30 years of freedom since the fall of communism.”