The Peace Light of Bethlehem is the symbolic fire inflamed at the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Then scouts disseminate it worldwide, although mainly in Europe and the USA. The Austrian television and radio company ORF inaugurated the program in 1986 to support handicapped children and people in need at Christmas time.
Since 1998, Ukrainian scouts take part in the action each year. Plast, as the biggest and the oldest Ukrainian scout organization, conveys this mission. Since 2007, members of Plast participate in the ceremony at the Vienna Cathedral, from where the fire is transferred to neighboring countries. From hand to hand, from one scout cell to another, the Bethlehem Fire overcomes many borders and reaches everyone who waits for the light of warmth.
Why it is Plast among other scout organizations on this mission
There are many small scout organizations in Ukraine. However, only Plast has a history of 107 years and is internationally represented in 9 countries where numerous Ukrainian diaspora support it.
Plast as a part of the scout movement that emerged in Ukraine in 1911. On 12 April 1912, a group of Ukrainian scouts took the first Plast oath. The founders of Plast were Oleksandr Tysovskyi, Ivan Chmola, and Petro Franko.
At that time, the youth in Plast was trained to shoot from a rifle and revolver, to make distant military marches with backpacks, to signal, to make bandages and so on. In modern Plast, some of these still relevant skills are taught. However, much more attention is paid to psychological, intellectual and emotional training of youth as well as humanitarian service:
“The main principles of the Plast method are voluntary membership in the organization, education through games and work, gradual engagements and tests, group system of self-organization, knowledge of environment through living in nature, support for special hobbies, interests, and abilities of young people.”
Although Plast was founded in Western Ukraine and restored mainly there after 1991, today the movement expands more and more to the eastern part of the country. In 2018, some 700 volunteers contributed to raise 1.3 million UAH (US$53,000) of сharitable funds for the development of the Plast movement in the east of Ukraine. It was the greatest sum of money ever collected on the Ukrainian crowdfunding platform Bigggidea. As a result of constant work, today Plast is represented in 22 out of 24 Ukrainian regions.[editorial]Currently, there are 137 local cells of Plast throughout Ukraine. As of 2013, seven Plast cells uniting about 150 members operated in Donetsk Oblast, three more cells existed in Luhansk Oblast. In 2014, one cell in Luhansk and one more in Donetsk ended up in the occupation zone while others remained in the government-controlled territory, in the cities of Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Mariupol, Avdiivka, Svatove, Sievierodonetsk. [/editorial]
Peace Light to the front-line
In Ukraine, the mission of Plast became yet more important after 2014. Many adult members of the organization, who used to train youth, themselves fought in the war against Russian militants and regulars.
“I was raised in the organization Plast and swore in “loyalty to God and Ukraine.” And these are not empty words. The usual duty is always to be as helpful as possible in your post. And no pathos,” says Taras Hryvul about his and other Plastoons’ motivation to join the armed forces of Ukraine.
However, he is also critical about the Ukrainian army as compared to Plast:
I translate the issue of the participation of Plastoons in this army into the question of reforming the modern army… Plast is an organization that is elite to some extent. We must admit that, on one hand, precious personnel cannot be scattered [by assigning them] to ordinary positions. But we have to change the general attitude towards the army.
While some adult members of the organization are fighting, the support of younger members, especially by the Peace Light, is always important.
This year, the Plastoons brought the Peace Light to the front-line town of Bakhmut, from where it was disseminated across various detachments.
“We want our defenders, who perform combat missions on the line of contact, to feel the celebration of Christmas. This fire should warm the hearts and souls of our warriors in trenches. We hope that soon the war will end with our victory and we will live in peace,” said a member of Plast who brought the Light to Bakhmut this year.
Peace Light of Bethlehem in the Parliament
On 17 December members of Plast brought the Light to the Ukrainian parliament and to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
It has already become an annual Ukrainian tradition before Christmas. However, this year was special for Plast: on the day when the Peace Light arrived in the Parliament, the people’s deputies finally adopted the law that recognizes the contribution of Plast to the struggle for Ukrainian independence and allows to provide the state support for the organization.
Previously, President Zelenskyy vetoed the law in September claiming that it favored Plast over other scout organizations of Ukraine by providing state funding for a specific NGO. In the new amended version of the law, the scout movement in general can obtain state and municipal support. At the same time, Plast and its contribution to Ukrainian statehood are separately recognized in the law:
This Law recognizes the historical contribution of the Plast movement to the civic education of children and young people, the acquisition and establishment of Ukrainian statehood, and launches the state policy for promoting the development of the Plast, scouting movement; honors the hundreds of plastoons and scouts who died in fight to win and defend Ukraine’s independence.
In the official statement, Plast states that the main point of the law is the recognition of the contribution of the organization, “Because it is recognition, first of all, of the unique experience of civic education and national-patriotic upbringing of young people, honoring the Plastoons who did not break their oaths, often giving their lives for the better future of their people and state…”
Plast leadership was grateful to the initiators of the law who proposed to secure public funding of the organization that would allow increasing the number of centers to attract even more adult volunteers to work with children. But in the context of the debate that started, the organization called on Parliament on 5 December to adopt amendments to the law by removing the obligation of direct public funding. Currently, Plast is funded by small membership fees and donations.
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