Pioneers Forever

Pioneer's honor if I lie to you! I don't know why, but I skipped school the day I was supposed to become an Oktombrel (a sort of junior pioneer), when I was in the first grade. You can imagine my suffering for not having participated in the ritual which made you "Ilich's little grandson." But I was automatically registered as an Oktombrel and wore the badge proudly and with dignity, the little red star with the blond, curly angelic figure of the child named Volodya Ulianov. True – Lenin was a child, too True – He also went to school And he used to carry with him The primer in his satchel. I passed this period with flying colors: I was an excellent pupil, I behaved properly, and therefore, each year I was awarded the "Merit Diploma." I grew up and had to move on to the next stage: becoming a Pioneer. Another level, other responsibilities. I had so many examples of pioneer heroes who had sacrificed themselves for the Country! Whoever was a Pioneer knows at least five or seven names of pioneer heroes: Volodya Dubinin, Marat Kazei, Valya Kotik, Zina Portnova, Lionya Golikov. Since we've all been pioneers, we can remember these names at any given time, day or night. What a solemn moment, how nervous we were when we had to be sworn in! The preparations! "I, Vasile Ernu, becoming a part of the Soviet Union's Pioneer Organization, with my comrades here present, solemnly swear to love my Country. To live, study and fight as the great Lenin taught us, as the Communist Party teaches us. To always respect the laws of the Soviet Union's pioneers..." And you can continue from here. The old Oktombrel badge was replaced with another, on which the young Volodya Ulianov became the mature Vladimir Ilich Lenin. "It's obvious there will be greater responsibilities," I thought. And they put that scarlet pioneer's cravat around my neck. The bugles blew, the drums beat. The chief of the pioneer unit saluted us and shouted: "Pioneers! Be ready to fight for Lenin's cause!" and we answered in a chorus, saluting her back: "Always, ready!" And then we sang a song together about blue skies and how we were the workers' children and how happy we were. That song was to become our anthem: "Svesti kastrami / Sinie nochy / My pionery / Deti rabochikh."The first days of wearing the pioneer cravat were as they were. We even enjoyed wearing it. In the morning our mothers used to iron them nicely, later on we learned to do the same, and we tied them with a perfect knot. Knowing how to tie the perfect knot was a real art. Some of us, the slicker ones, knew how to knot their cravats in cowboy style. We were penalized for this. Gradually, we began to leave our cravats at home, or throw them in a corner of the gym, or in the satchel, or crumple them in our pockets. And again, we were penalized. The pioneer had to observe some rules; he had to set an example of behavior. Everything had to be just like in the books and movies that impressed us to much. How many times have I read Arkady Gaidar's Timur and his Team, the Bible of the Soviet Pioneer! And haven't I seen the movie countless times? In daily, real life it's hard to follow in these heroes' footsteps. And yet, the Pioneer life had its charm. We tried to follow the example of these heroes. We had our organized teams. We'd help an old lady either by digging her garden, or arranging her stack of winter wood. We also used to organize the collection of waste paper, scrap iron, acacia seeds, and chamomile flowers. It was a real competition. We were always the winners when it came to waste paper and scrap iron. Why? In my case, my father was responsible for supplying the shops and we had access to the waste paper from all the shops in the area; and one of my classmates' father was a kind of boss at the heavy machinery repair workshop. You can imagine how much paper and how much iron we had. We gained victories on every plan. We were the little Stakhanovites. On the one hand, we won the competition; on the other, we realized the importance of having the right man at the right place. The party never forgets you. What about the sports competitions? A real feast. Or the military-sporting games Zarnitsa and Arlionok. I was a captain and my team reached the regional finals. What about the KVN games, of "the club of the joyful and ingenious"? Boy, did we play those games a lot! Not to mention the "singing march" on the 23rd of February, the Red Army Day! "Attention, unit!" "Unit, get into formation!" "To the right!" It was tiring, but I enjoyed it. When summer came, we all went in an organized way to summer camps. That was where we got away from our parents and the rest of the adults. Of course, we had pionervajatie, pioneer and camp chiefs, but let me tell you a little secret. These chiefs were always young student girls doing pedagogical practice, and it was a pleasure for us not to do anything that would upset them. They were the best of the best and we even dreamt about them at night. I went to pioneer camps, too, but, unfortunately, I didn't go to Artek. from I Was Born in the USSR, Polirom, 2006

by Vasile Ernu (b. 1971)