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The Pioneer Salute

November 22, 2011

I’ve found some great old books from the Soviet period on the Volhynia region in the Rivne State Library. One particular book, U Pam’iati Narodnii [In Memory of the People], had some wonderful photographs of Rivne oblast‘ memorialization practice. Here are just a few that caught my eye:

Dundich monument, Shevchenko Park, Rivne

The person in the monument above is not a Ukrainian or a Russian for that matter. In fact, we know very little in detail about Oleko Dundich. One story has him as a Serbian and another version as a Croatian. What we do know is he servied in Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. He was stationed on the Eastern front and was taken prisoner by the Russians in Luts’k. After being taken prisoner, he later joined a voluntary Serbian unit and served in the Tsarist army. Once the revolution broke out, he cast his lot with the Bolsheviks and served under famous general Budyonnyi. Dundich was later canonized by Babel in his Konarmiia collection for his bravery and eventually he was buried in Rivne of all places. Also important to note is that he was the fencing champion in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1914 and the only Croatian/Serbian to earn the Order of the Red Banner — you’ll thank me later for those trivia gems.

The Dundich bust is one of few Soviet monuments to survive the post-Soviet transition (the others are war grave monuments mostly). Even the Kuznetsov monument was removed. Apparently Dundich was attacked in the early 2000’s by local Ukrainians, but still managed to survive both volatile post-Soviet Volhynian politics and terrorism to this very day. I’ve walked by it many times on park strolls.

You’ll notice something familiar from the Dundich picture in this photo, as well:

Ceremony in Orzhiv.

In case you can’t see clearly what’s going in the back of this photo, look at the following:

Ceremony on Theatre Square in Rivne.

At first glance, you might think perhaps young Soviet citizens were devotees of some weird kind of fascism or perhaps Star Trek fans. But neither are true (well, maybe the latter) — this was in fact the Pioneer Salute. The salute was a symbolic gesture used by the Young Pioneers, a Soviet mass youth organization, during ceremonies like the ones held above in the to celebrate Soviet heroes. I suppose one got very good at such a salute given the number of monuments in a place like Rivne, not to mention the endless ceremonies that accompanied them. Important to keep in mind, you could only do the salute if you were wearing your pioneer scarf (or galstuk).

Soviet stamp

Like all things Soviet, even the pioneer salute (and the pioneer institution), has found its way into the Jamesonian post-modernist conveyor belt of kitsch. I leave you with these images. Enjoy!

Update: You can also check out the joint Yugoslav-Soviet film: Aleksa Dundic (1958).

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