Russians yearn for return to comradeship of Pioneer Camps

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The Independent Online
True, there was a certain amount of ideological claptrap and parading to put up with. But for many children, it was the reason they looked forward to the summer.

Pioneer Camp, in Soviet times, was as much a highlight of the season as apple blossom and harvest time.

No more. Millions of Russian children face a summer cooped up in cramped city flats because the camps have fallen victim to the capitalist vices of privatisation and profit.

Founded in 1922 by Lenin's wife, the camps became the standard way of drumming a little ideology into impressionable skulls, as well as ensuring that the youth of the Soviet Union were given a health-inducing break from their parents.

Every year, millions of Soviet children, aged between seven and 16, were dispatched to camps, usually for a month.

It was not Butlin's, but it was not the Gulag either. The regime was disciplined, but not repressive.

Children would rise early to the sound of the bugle, clean their compounds, parade in their red neckerchiefs and spend hours swimming, playing football, and weaving baskets.

It was healthy and cheap. Parents could get rid of their children for a nominal fee, often subsidised by their employers. "Everyone went to them," said Olga Podolskaya, who remembers her mother paying just 20 roubles - a sixth of her monthly salary - to send her to camp outside Moscow.

But in the last few years, prices have shot up, especially in privately run camps.

In 1988, 8.4 million children went to 47,100 camps, but that figure has almost halved. Those institutions that remain open cost between $180 (pounds 120) and $400 a month - a price only the wealthy can afford.

For many Russians it is the sad loss of a tradition - and yet another reason to vote for the return of the Communists in next month's election.