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Czechoslovakia Table of Contents


Youth Organizations

Because the creation of the "new socialist man" is an important part of communist ideology, youth organizations have always played an important role in communist regimes. After the 1948 takeover, the KSC formed two Soviet-style youth organizations: the Pioneers (for youngsters eight to fifteen years old) and the Czechoslovak Union of Youth (ages fifteen to twenty-five). Both organizations were geared toward grooming their members (or a fortunate fraction of them) for KSC membership.

By the late 1960s, some 70 percent of all those eligible were members of the Pioneers; the reform movement revealed, however, a number of points of dissatisfaction. Czechoslovak adherence to the Soviet model extended to uniform dress (white shirts and red kerchiefs) and salutes, neither of which was popular among Czechs and Slovaks. In addition, Pioneers leadership was often less than devoted. In 1968, when the organization became voluntary, the number of leaders dropped precipitously; the resulting shortage persisted through the 1980s.

The Czechoslovak Union of Youth had a tumultuous history during the late 1960s and 1970s. As a feeder organization for the KSC, it faced many of the same problems the party faced in recruiting members. In the mid-1960s, less than half of all fifteen to twenty-five year olds were members; in the mid-1970s, fewer than one-third had joined. As in the case of the KSC, those who joined tended to do so with their future careers in mind; secondary school and university students were overrepresented, while only a fraction of the eligible industrial and agricultural workers belonged. Furthermore, a single, centralized organization was simply an inadequate vehicle for the interests of such a diverse group. During the reform era, the Czechoslovak Union of Youth split into a number of independent associations, including the Union of High School Students and Apprentices, the Union of Working Youth, and the Union of University Students. It was not a development the party found suitable, and beginning in 1969 party leaders set about reconstituting a unified movement. During the same era, the 1968 invasion spawned a number of dissident youth organizations. In the early 1970s, these were all infiltrated and repressed by the KSC, a policy that has continued through the 1980s.

In 1970 the party organized the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth, and by mid-decade the skewed recruitment pattern of its predecessor, the Czechoslovak Union of Youth, which had recruited more students than workers, had reappeared. The recruitment effort had been more intense than ever. "I know of only two types of students at this institution," commented one teacher, "those who will not graduate and those who are members of the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth." The nets had been cast so widely that, not surprisingly, some members were unenthusiastic. Throughout the 1970s, there were complaints about the organization's propensity to take any and all joiners (even "beatniks," one writer complained), the association's apolitical and recreational focus, and a membership bent more on securing admission to a university than learning "the principles of socialist patriotism."

In 1983 the Czechoslovak Socialist Union of Youth had a total membership of over 1.5 million. Twenty-five percent of the members were listed as workers, 3 percent as agricultural workers, and 72 percent as "others."

Data as of August 1987