Article by: Maria Shchur
The Plast (National Scout Organization of Ukraine) will play a greater role in the education of Ukrainian youth, but it will never be transformed into a state controlled organization similar to the Pioneer Organization (a mass youth organization of the Soviet Union for children of age 10–15 — Ed.), Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, the head of the Plast National Scout Organization, stated in an interview with Radio Liberty, October 24.
We invited him to tell us more about Plast’s cooperation with Ukraine’s Ministry of Education, Plast’s activity in eastern Ukraine, and how experience in the free world has helped the organization restore its activity in Ukraine.
The greatest value of this experience was in the beginning, during the restoration of independence and then during the restoration of Plast. In fact, on the institutional level, democratic procedures were established in the organization immediately, the same ones that Plast has employed in the United States and in Europe — in other words in the Ukrainian Diaspora. Our organization undoubtedly adapted more easily to the challenges of democratic development. While other Ukrainian civic organizations are beginning to reach high levels of democratic governance only now, under the influence of the European Union, the Plast organization had begun to restore itself according to these principles almost immediately.
What kind of cooperation will you have with the Ministry of Education now? On the one hand, this cooperation confirms Plast’s significant role in patriotic education. We can already see the results at the present time when there is war in Ukraine. But, on the other hand, is there a danger that by cooperating with government institutions Plast could become another “Pioneer organization”?
The first agreement about cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Plast was signed still in the early 1990s. Without this permission we simply would not have been given access to the educational institutions and therefore could not have created our groups in the schools, which was a very effective approach in western and central Ukraine. Especially since in the southern and eastern regions there were generally problems from the local authorities.
The system outlined in the latest agreement is a partnership. In other words, the state and Plast are cooperating. As soon as one of the parties finds that this partnership comes at the expense of effectiveness, it can break the agreement after giving advance warning to the partner. Therefore, as part of this cooperation the government gives Plast — a source of informal education — access to formal educational institutions, primarily to centers of extracurricular education. Plast, in turn, shares its methodology and provides training not only for Plast educators but also for teachers-organizers who wish to work using our techniques. I think the agreement is drawn up in such a way that the possibility of subordinating the organization to the state, as was the case the Pioneer Organization, are reduced to zero. They are virtually absent.
How far east has Plast been able to go and how can you expand your organization in the east? Has the government encouraged you to do this and how do you work with the children from eastern Ukraine who have ended up as displaced persons? Who is trying to establish contact: you with them or they with you?
We had a traditionally very strong center in Sevastopol and before the (Russian) occupation there were about ten centers in Crimea. We also had groups with Crimean Tatars, the Qırımlı. Now they are scattered throughout Ukraine because so far these groups have not been restored.
Of course, after the occupation any possibility of official work in the occupied Crimea ended, as it has also ended in the area that is now controlled by the separatists. However, in the frontline area in Sloviansk, in Kramatorsk and also in Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk, Plast centers are being developed very seriously since parents recognize the need for patriotic self-development of their children.
We have separate programs for children from families of temporarily displaced persons. Now there is a camp in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, in Sokil, in Plast’s historical camp museum that had been founded by Andriy Sheptytsky. It is serving the children from Avdiyivka now. Our representatives in the Donetsk Oblast have gathered these children that come primarily from families that have been resettled from another territory of the Donetsk Oblast, which is now controlled by pro-Russian forces, and these children have two full weeks of Plast camp according to Plast methods.
Whereas Donbas authorities had created difficulties earlier, the bigger problem now is finding volunteers willing to work with the children for free according to the Plast method and to invest quite a bit of their own time. Given the difficult economic conditions in the east, there are not enough of these people to satisfy all the demand on the part of the children and all the parents who want to send their children to Plast. However, we are doing everything that is in our power.
And, of course, support from the government is very helpful, but any idea of carrying out the desire of the state to become a mass movement similar to the Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union is hardly something we can do or want to do, since we really approach each child individually. We can do only as much as there are people ready to invest their time in the future, to devote themselves to it. We will be able to create as many centers as we can find people and thus to extend our Plast movement.
The motto of Plast has always been to “Serve God and Ukraine.” To what extent is Plast ready to accept children of different nationalities and different religious cultures and to educate these children with such different backgrounds into patriots of Ukraine?
In today’s globalized world the classic “oppositional” nationalism where a nation is created because it has a clear enemy and resists is not viable; it is outdated. Therefore we now work more on bringing up worthy citizens not only on the local and national level but as part of the international and global community.
Does this reduce the patriotism of our children? No, it simply extends certain ideological paradigms. Therefore, we often receive children from Russian speaking families. Yes, we have a rule in the organization to speak Ukrainian, but we in no way limit the right of parents to determine what language will be used in the family.
We have a similar situation regarding belief in God. This is a personal matter for the parents, especially since this is a matter for each child. Our position is that Ukrainian culture as well as European civilization have emerged thanks to Christian values, but in fact these values are universal and all humanistic religions have similar values.