Saturday, 31 July 2010

A century of Polish scouting

Polish scouting celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The movement was set up by Andrzej Małkowski in 1910, influenced of course by Robert Baden-Powell. Every six years since 1969, Polish scouts around the world gathered at a zlot (literally 'a flying together'). There was a shorter interval since the last one (in America in 2006 which Moni attended) to catch up with the centenary. This year it's taking place in Poland. Over 1,500 Polish boys and girls from around the world are present on the zlot at Zegrze, just north of Warsaw.

Above and below: the march-past opening the guests' day at zlot. The Americans stole the show with their drumming; each scout or guide unit was led by a trio of drummers.

The scouts (harcerze) and guides (harcerki) of the Polish diaspora, global in reach, gathered this year in Poland for the eighth world zlot. (The word looks like the one for the Polish currency but has a different root. Lot means 'flight' - as in the airline - whereas złoty comes from złoto - 'gold'.)

The zlot itself consists of several dozen individual camps, each of around 20 to 50 scouts or guides. Each one had an elaborately constructed gate. Above left: Hufiec Szczecin (southern England, all points west of London); above right: Hufiec Wilno (from Huddersfield) and Hufiec Wrocław (from the East Midlands) shared a camp.

Above: The zlot took place on military land; this dummy armoured fighting vehicle is used for combat practice. It was an ideal place for such an event.

Above: Eddie joined his friends from Manchester, with whom he'd gone on many scout-cub camps in Penrhos, North Wales.

The harcerze and harcerki came from America, Canada, Australia, Britain (the largest contingent), France, Argentina, Denmark, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus (where Poles are routinely persecuted) and Kazakhstan. The boys from Kazakhstan were in the same camp as Eddie; only one of them spoke Polish well enough to communicate with the Mancunian Poles (the rest speaking Russian). And there was a (smallish) contingent from Poland itself.

What makes the zlot so fascinating is what gives the boys and girls their hyphenated identities. Yes, they are proud to be Polish, but they are equally proud of the land where they live. The Australian harcerki had headwear modelled on bush-hats, while the Argentinian guides' hats looked like something gauchos would wear. The American scouts and guides wore neck scarves with stars and stripes, while out of uniform the Canadian contingent wore red t-shirts with the word 'KANADA' in white. We heard a British harcerz saying: "When it started raining I realised I'd left my ręcznik and my materac outside..." which is exactly how we speak in our family - English - with Polish words thrown in for the sake of laziness or precision.

It made us think about identity - we are specifically Poles from the UK. Nothing less, nothing more. We can adapt perfectly into the both nations. I think this is something that most people on the zlot can identify with. Below: the camp fire - the largest I've ever been at in my life. Spot the Argentinian hats - left of centre.

A memorable, thoroughly enjoyable family day out, not least because of the large number of old friends we managed to catch up with - both UK-born Poles living in Poland and those still living in the UK. Greyer.


Anonymous said...

A most spirited, objective and inspiring observation of the positive intricacies /qualities of national and international identity.

Worshipful Brother Hercules of the Pillars {England and Wales}

basia said...

The sight of all that lightweight grey wool, makes me itchy all over. Aaah, memories of various obozy, zloty, ogniska itd.

I run into past harcerki here in TO all the time. Pretty amazing really. Two moms on my son's baseball team turned out to be ex-harcerki from years gone by.

Our family was very involved in harcerstwo. My brother actually fell in love (at zimowisko) and married a wonderful young women that I have known since my zuchy days. ::))

Julek said...

Very nice article :) the 'dummy' tank you took a picture of did you possibly take any pictures of the oboz just next to it?(thats the oboz i was on)

Also just a little mention with the drums - the americans are stil amatuers at it - szczerze mowiac Canada steal/stole/will still steal the show :)