Lenin’s birthday, Part Two: The last Pioneer

22 Apr
The last pioneer

The last pioneer

Another reason why Lenin’s birthday, which is today, is memorable: on this day, twenty one years ago, I became a Pionner – one in the very last batch of Soviet children inducted into the Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization. The year was 1991, the spring was in the air, and 3rd graders all over the country were being inducted into the organization (a junior wing of the Communist Party) as was customary, on the birthday of our dear Grandpa Lenin.

It was, as I said, 1991: six years into Gorbachev’s perestroika, the admission into the Pioneer organization was by no means required any longer, but the organization still exercised a strong pull and so the admission was pumped up as something that was by no means guaranteed. One had to have good grades in academic subjects and good grades for behavior, and one had to receive positive recommendations from teachers in order to stand a chance to be admitted. I recall the months leading up to April 22, 1991 as a kind of minor intrigue. I myself – a straight A’s student and the teachers’ favorite – had nothing to fear, but I recall, with no small amount of retroactive embarassment, the sheer satisfaction of attending class meetings where problematic candidacies of some of my classmates were up for discussion. I don’t recall myself weighing in against my classmates (or have I conveniently forgotten it?), but I do recall the sadistic pleasure of delighting in the petty denunciations by nine- and ten-year-olds of their misbehaving peers. Everyone in my class was admitted, save for one – a boy with bad grades for his behavior, who would (not completely maliciously) sic a dog on me a few months later. The last I heard of him, he was gainfully employed by Russia’s Tax police. He did well for himself without being Lenin’s little Pioneer.

My Pionner spring was sweet but short: there was only one month left of the school year during which we were required to wear our red Pioneer ties. Because this was the time of the final exams, we didn’t get to do any activities that made being a Pioneer so appealing in the first place (read the last few words with a sarcastic intonation) – no helping any old ladies across the street, no collection of scrap metal to help our struggling state, no collection of paper recycling to allow more books (Lenin’s folios included) to be printed. The pionner tie itself, made of some red sweat-inducing artificial fabric, with its three ends symbolizing the ever-unbreakable u(tri)nity of the Pioneers, the Komsomol (Communist Youth Organization), and the Communist Party, was proving to be a chore to wear around one’s neck as the weather was getting warmer and warmer. Then came summer. Then, in August, the coup d’etat  happened and failed, and on September 1, 1991, the first day of the new school year, my parents did not let me wear my tie to school despite my pleading. It took a week or so for everyone else to stop wearing their red ties, too. Though it was only a few months since that glorious Lenin’s birthday when I became a Pioneer, those few months made all the difference. Nobody needed the Pioneers any more.

The guy you see in the picture is a wooden goat I own. I improvised him a Pioneer tie a few years ago out of nostalgia mixed liberally with a few doses of sarcasm. I always thought of myself as Russia’s last Pioneer – but no, my wooden goat, sitting proudly on his perch on one of my bookshelves, deserves that title more than I do.

What happened to my own Pioneer tie, you may ask – the object that every Pioneer was to hold sacred and take good care of? We got a dog, an American cocker spaniel. He was just a young teething pup then. He ate my Pioneer tie that year. That agent of imperialism!

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