It might seem odd to interrogate a recent period of time about the meanings of childhood! Most of the people born after 1945 lived their childhood in a space part of Europe and Asia and a period 1945-1989 under communism! They are vivid sources about their lives, they can tell and write stories, suitable for the history of communism, as it was lived, not theorized; their stories oppose the official discourse, the official propaganda which legitimated the political system for over half a century!
As the readers of this special issue will have the opportunity to see, our childhoods has much in common: the kids from the Eastern Bloc lived under the same auspices, as the entire society does! All citizens work according to their capacities and abilities and they are getting everything that they need (from everyone according to capabilities, to everyone according to their needs). The egalitarian system was extended in all spheres, including private life: all people should have the same chances to go to school, to get a job, to live according to the same principles, to eat the same industrialized food, to raise the children according to the party rules etc. Children had to be organized, childhood had to be structured, as well as the entire society.
In the Western interpretation, the creation of childrens organisations in communist societies has pursued two main goals: to inoculate as early as possible the communist ideals, through any means, from the tenderest ages, and to block the control of the parents most of them being raised according to and familiarised with the old systems, in which the head of the familys authority was indisputable and traditions played first fiddle over their children, so that the mission of the state of moulding the new man might be successful! The communist ideologists considered the child an innocent being, good by nature, damaged by the inequitable society and the imperfect social arrangements they thus embraced illuminist ideals on which one could intervene and who could be modelled according to the new ideals in order to become a better worker, a braver soldier and a more reliable citizen. More than in any other historical period the state substitutes itself to the parents, through
the school, children organizations and by educating the parents, using various guides and advice books written by the ideologists of the party, fully complying with the communist ideals but less with parenthood. More than belonging to their parents, children were rather seen as belonging to the state and this brought half of a century of dualism between the old habits the parents were used to and the new rules reinforced by the state. According to Peter Stearns (p. 103) children had to be remade and the State claimed that it knew more about the childrens needs than their own parents! More than in Western societies and much more than in any other historical period, the State substitutes the parents, by means of the schooling system, by the use of the childre’s organisations and by educating the parents (in the USSR even through their own children) through various guides and advice books elaborated by the Party’s pedagogues and ideologists in strict accord with the Partys ideals and less with parenting principles. The child is the object of state upbringing since parents were not fully reliable for the task of raising their own children and they needed additional guidance (Stearns, 104).
The main role of family was considered to be giving birth to children and to raising them in the new social spirit. That is, to become worthy citizens of the communist society. The politics of the communists were aimed at fighting against the Western urban family type, and for the preservation of traditional family values. This included an ideological strengthening of rural-patriarchal values, which was partially successful. In Romania, the prototype of this family was the Ceausescu family: Nicolae, Elena and their three children. He was the father, she, the mother of the nation! In a speech from 1966 Ceausescu said: it is mandatory to fight against retrograde attitude, against improper and flyaway attitudes regarding family because the consequence of these attitudes is the increase of divorces, broken homes, neglect in rising and educating children (Ceausescu 1966, 2).
In communism all social functions of the family are taken by the state! In order to realise that, the communism alterated the natural, traditional functions of the families, replacing them with the principles of a new man in a totally new society. The communist’s ideas regarding the new role of the state in what concerns the children upbringing were made public through an article signed by Alexandra Kollontay, published in 1920 in Komunista and translated in English in The Worker, article which served as a programmatic, guiding document of the communist states, at least in their early ages in what concerns the regulating the family life and the care for children for the entire communist bloc:
The workers state will come to replace the family, society will gradually take upon itself all the tasks that before the revolution fell to the individual parents. Communist society will come to the aid of the parents…… We have homes for very small babies, creches, kindergartens, children’s colonies and homes, hospitals and health resorts for sick children. restaurants, free lunches at school and free distribution of text books, warm clothing and shoes to schoolchildren. All this goes to show that the responsibility for the child is passing from the family to the collective…..Communist society takes care of every child and guarantees both him and his mother material and moral support. Society will feed, bring up and educate the child. At the same time, those parents who desire to participate in the education of their children will by no means be prevented from doing so. Communist society will take upon itself all the duties involved in the education of the child, but the joys of parenthood will not be taken away from those who are capable of appreciating them. Such are the plans of communist society and they can hardly be interpreted as the forcible destruction of the family and the forcible separation of child from mother (Kollontay 1920).
In socialism, the state, the communist state, thought that it will be better to take the responsibility of children raising since the parents were educated and formatted in the so-called bourgeois tradition, similar in their minds with ignorance and superstitions.
One should note that the battle for building the new man (who was, in order, a new citizen, a new husband, new wife and a new child) started in the family and in this respect is particularly interesting the dual attitude of the state regarding this institution: on one hand, the communists introduced a series of regulations that broke the traditional family living but, on another hand, they focused precisely on this traditional character in an attempt to preserve the family as the main institution of the private society. Communist society considered the social education of the rising generation to be one of the fundamental aspects of the new life. The old family, narrow and petty, where the parents quarrel and are only interested in their own offspring, is not capable of educating the new person.
School as an institution was the first link in the training system of staff needed to build socialism. Youth needed to be educated in the spirit of socialist patriotism and proletarian internationalism (Falls 2011). In 1918 Soviet communists decided that we must make the younger generation a generation of Communists. We have to transform children into true communists. We must learn to influence significantly the family. We have to take control and, to say clearly, nationalize them. Since the first days they [the children] will be under the influence of Communist kindergartens and schools (Heller 1985, 180). In this ideological climate, there was no popularized information about child development in general and emotional development in particular, on how to deal with disturbing events; the value of personal feelings was disregarded in favour of what one should feel (decided by officials); families had to adapt by ignoring their feelings and, as a consequence, the children learned to not pay attention or explore their emotional states.
In 2012, in a national competition for research funding, I proposed a project aiming to reconstruct the history of Romanian childhood, by merging the official history with the lived one, assigned to individuals. The project was going to round my own researches on Romanian communism I had just finalized a postdoctoral research dedicated to the Romanian family under communism and on childhood. One of the project outputs was to gather, in a composite volume, stories about childhood coming from the former European communist countries. I intended to involve scholars focused on childhood or communism in the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Socijalistička Federativna Republika Jugoslavija), the People’s Republic of Bulgaria (Narodna Republika Bălgariia), the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (Československá Socialistická Republika), the Polish People’s Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) the Hungarian People’s Republic (Magyar Népköztársásag),the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, (Republíka Popullóre Socialiste e Shqipërísë), theRussian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Soiuz Sovetskih So?ialisticeskih Respublik) and, of course, the Socialist Republic of Romania (Republica Socialista Romania). I succeeded only partially! Colleagues who positively and enthusiastically answered when I launched the call found themselves later in the situation of not being able to meet the deadline because of unforeseeable events which occurred in their private or scientific life. Still, I am grateful for their feedback, for their involvement in the project and I express my hope that we would find a proper time and way to publish a collective work about childhood in communism! I express my deepest belief that we, the scholars who were born here, under communism, we, the former pioneers and falcons, we have to do it, we have to interrogate our parents, relatives, friends, neighbours about their recent past, we have to write our own history!
I would like to warmly thank my invited guests, the authors who sent their papers about childhood in communism to be published in this special issue of the Romanian Journal of Population Studies. My thanks are going to Galina Makarevich, Vitaly Bezrogov and Ivan Bulatov, who addressed subjects related to the soviet childhood, to Agnieszka Doda-Wyszyńska and Monika Obrębska from Poland, to Jana Kopelentova Rehak and Marek Tesar, colleagues who are living and teaching far away from the borders of the former Czechoslovakia but who kindly answered my invitation to draw the image of the Czechoslovak childhood, to Petya Bankova, from Bulgaria, whose interviews with people who lived their tender ages in that dark period of time took us to the real life of childhood in communism and, of course, to my Romanian colleague, Codru?a Pohrib, curently a PhD candidate at the University of Maastricht, whose paper about the remembered tactics about the educational strategies of the ’70s and ’80s completed my own research focused on the impact of children’s organizations on the formation of what was called the new man.
My entire gratitude goes to all of them and also to my colleagues from the Centre for Population Studies!
Ceauşescu, Nicolae. (1966). Discursul de deschidere al Conferinţei Naţionale a Femeilor din 1966 [The opening discourse of National Conference of Women, 1966] in Femeia [The Women] no. 10.
Falls, Irina. (2011). Family and Child Education in Communist Romania: Consequences of the Duality of Values and Behaviours. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1(13): 33-37.
Kollontay, Alexandra. (1920). The Communism and the Family. London, The Worker’s Socialist Federation.
Stearns, Peter. (2006). Childhood in World History, Routlege University Press.
Heller, A. M. (1985). La machine et les rouages. La formation de lhomme sovietique. Paris, Calmann-Levy.
The Russian Revolution and the civil war that followed, fractured the Russian society, and the nascent Scout movement in Russia was not spared by these events. Scouts fell apart into three factions: those supporting the Whites or the Reds, and those who remained neutral.
The neutral scouts, who remained faithful to the non-political character of the Scouting model, continued their work, until having been finally eliminated by the OGPU (Joint State Political Directorate). Red scouts in this time helped Bolsheviks to create communistic youth movements: YuKi, ROUR, pioneers, etc.
This study is focused on the process by which ideology influenced a childrens movements under the extreme conditions of a civil war, and later under the no-less stressful confrontation with the power of the state.
scout movement, pioneers, Civil War, young communists, Komsomol, repressions.
The authors investigate specific features and stages through which the image of the Soviet child construct was shaped. By analyzing three 1946-1948 Primers they demonstrate the emergence of the social iconography of children’s images, and show how different ideologically-charged constructs were selected. Research is based on the historical and cultural methodology founded on recording a wide range of semantic visual and verbalized meanings. By elucidating the principal block of meanings, one can arrive at when and how the image of the Soviet child was coded and re-coded. The authors define three such blocks: existential, culture-producing, ideological and political. The tenet of the article is that each of these blocks would be foregrounded depending both on the overall ideological situation and on the socioeconomic tasks of a particular post-war year.
primer; elementary school; childhood; Soviet history; Stalin and education.
The aim of the article is to compare the system of values constituting the foundation of the social identity of generations born in Poland in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s through the analysis of childhood media heroes who, according to Geert and Gert Jan Hofstede (2007), are a personified link between cultural symbols and rituals. The authors of this article assume that heroes personify important generational features and values, particularly appreciated in a given culture and therefore they constitute a type of role models guiding life choices of particular generations of Poles.
culture, values, childhood heroes
This paper is an historical analysis of practices to conceptualize childhoods in Czechoslovakia during communist governance. Through the lens of the children’s magazines and literature, it explores the microcosm of everyday governance against the backdrop of the political changes of the 1950s, and then the 1970s and 1980s. The production of political subjectivities occurred as early as kindergarten age, and childrens literature and magazines were important carriers of these notions. This paper argues that the youngest children were productive powerful actors that shaped their own totalitarian childhoods, and not merely passive recipients of the strong, punitive, ideologically charged dogma of education. Through their use of literature, children in kindergartens are shown as agenting citizens, in totalitarian Czechoslovakia.
childhood, Czechoslovakia, Havel, children’s literature, politics.
Childhood experiences in Czechoslovakia between 1948 and 1989 were influenced by moral habitus shaped by the political events in 1948. I discussed the concept of moral habitus as it is embodied in the historical-political processes in context of social suffering of children of the political prisoners. Focus on life history of the son of a Czech political prisoners Peter and I examine his sense of difference from other children through distinct experiences, the value of morality in his family, and the urgency to survive. Peters childhood memories reflect his co-lived suffering with his parents in the past. His experiences within the process of reconciliation reveal new forms of social suffering immerged in post-socialist Czechoslovakia.
Morality, Social Suffering, Memory, Childhood, Socialism, Trauma, Reconciliation, Violence, Kinship, Family.
The individual life stories are valuable source of data about the childhood in Bulgaria during the recent past. In this paper the child is depicted in the Bulgarian capital during the period of the 60s and the 70s of the 20th century. An attempt is made to explore the everyday space-time of children between 6 and 12 years old, who spend most of their lives in school rather than at home and were totally dependent of the existing ideological system of education and personal formation. Several generations of Bulgarian children grew up in an atmosphere of tension, anxiety and fear whether they have fulfilled the prescribed by the totalitarian state duties, whether they have met the expectations imposed by a social system devoid of basic human rights and freedoms a system depriving its members from the right of life choice.
childhood, communism, school, family, education, socialization, responsibility, guilt, fear.
With the proliferation of generational life writing focused on exploring experiences of childhood in communist Romania (particularly the decades 1970s-1980s), a new discourse on the recent past has penetrated the public sphere as an alternative to the dominant anti-communist discourse that has so far focused on intellectual and political elites or members of the resistance. This article puts forward the claim that instead of relegating this discourse to the all-too-often dismissed category of pop-culturalization of history or commodification of nostalgia, researchers would be better advised to take their cue from this return to the child’s perspective on the everyday as a potential means to disentangle the binary perspective that plagues post-communist memory studies. Following de Certeau (1984), this article explores educational strategies targeted at school-age children in communist Romania, while giving equal importance to the tactics that children employed in response, as they appear in oral history projects or autobiographies. It focuses particularly on children’s organizations and media, highlighting the need to account for a multiplicity of childhood experiences and to factor in the child’s agency. As communist structures of feeling find their articulation from the perspective of the traditionally marginal child-figure, we might find we need to start talking about communist childhoods in the plural.
communism, childhood, children’s organizations, children’s media, structures of feeling, strategies and tactics
It is a well-known fact that in the socialist states children were seen as the main force for social changing, especially in those states having a long term perspective regarding their lasting. Education, child care or supportive measures were far from being sufficient for such a purpose; over organization, over-regulation and a strong discipline had to be enforced since the very first years of every child! The pre-school and school children were going to be integrated in the process of revolutionary education of the young generation. Soimii Patriei (The Country’s Hawks), an original creation of Nicolae Ceausescu no other country of the communist block had a similar organization) and The Pioneers, played their role in the creation of the multilaterally developed society and in the revolutionary education of the young generation.
In this paper I will analyse the main children organizations, their statute and regulations, but also their printed materials – magazines for children with the purpose to present the ways and means used by the state to indoctrinate the children. The indoctrination goes so deep that, in many circumstances, we can think that the children did not belong to their parents but rather to the party and its leader, Nicolae Ceausescu. This type of analyse, including the degree of implication of the children in these organizations (especially the Pioneers) can reveal very interesting aspects about the sociological and psychological impact on children: numerous accounts testify that the position of group, detachment or unity commander (the three divisions in organization) was the first leadership experience in their personal history.
Pioneers, Country’s Hawkes, communism, childhood, România