Noorteorganisatsioonide ajalugu   Youth organisations history

90 years of Estonian Scouting

Estonian scouting and scouting in Estonia 1912-1940

The beginning of scouting has usually been dated from the first camp on Brownsea Island in 1907, organized by Baden-Powell (BP). After that the scouting movement spread quickly all over the world and in 1912 the first troop was formed in Estonia, in Pärnu. The review about scouting in the Russian pupils’ calendar caught the eye of the boys and soon the BP’s "Scouting for Boys" in Russian translation "Junyi Razvedtchik" was obtained.

Scouting is an international youth movement, which keeping the basic values, is changing together with the changes taking place in society. The first article in the Estonian media (journalism) about scouting was published in 1911. Anton Õunapuu described there the entity and principles of scouting, it was written as reference to the prohibition of scouting activities in Finland by the Russian officials. It’s hard to say if anybody was inspired by that article, but quite certainly it was a reason why Anton Õunapuu himself and maybe also other nationally minded leaders did not get seriously involved in scouting activities before 1916 - 1917 … the result in Estonia would have been the same as in Finland …

So the Pärnu troop stayed functioning as the one and only troop during the first years of scouting in Estonia, attracting 80 – 100 boys on its best days. In 1916 a troop was formed in Tartu at the Aleksandri (later Treffneri) high school (gymnasium) and in 1916/17 Anton Õunapuu started scouting activities in different schools in Tallinn, where he was teaching gymnastics. Until that time scouting in Estonia was organised on the Russian and German models and using literature from these languages. Õunapuu tried to break those models and design scouting in Estonia to be the Estonian youth work with its specialities and needs. The changes beginning to take place in society and in which Õunapuu and other leaders and scouts were actively involved, had a noticeable affect on scouting during the following years …

When the War of Independence began in 1918, Anton Õunapuu was one of the organisers and leaders of Kalevlaste Maleva. Some scouts and leaders joined with it and there were scouts also in Pupils’ Companies and in Divisions of Armoured Trains. A Scouts Battalion was organised with the exile Estonian Henry Reissar’s finances, but it was connected with scouting only in name. There was a very warm and friendly relationship between the Estonian Scout Association and the Scouts battalion. Once the Chief of the Scouts Battalion was asked why all who have been scouts could not serve in that battalion. The chief answered – the reason is that we cannot concentrate all the best-prepared men in one company… On its 10th anniversary on 21st of December 1928, scouts and guides presented a flag to the Scouts Battalion.

The War of Independence influenced scouting in different ways … more than 50 scouts and leaders went to the front and 9 of them died. On the 2nd of April 1919 Anton Õunapuu died. His and his fellows’ (who died the same day and place) funeral service in St John’s Church in Tallinn was one of the most powerful public manifestations for scouts at that time. The unveiling of the memorial to him in 1940 in Petserimaa on the battlefield where he died was among the last ones before the Soviet occupation and was one of the latest joint events for scouts too …

After the war scouting activities continued with a new passion and initially a lot of new members became involved. One reason for that was also a free distribution of uniforms and footwear to scouts. These were military uniforms, bought or got from the entente during the War of Independence… The main deficiency at that time was the lack of trained leaders and scouting literature in Estonian. So the number of scouts declined again as the boys outgrew their uniforms.

In 1920 the 10 Estonian scouts and leaders participated in the I World Jamboree in London and Estonian scouts were founding members of the World Organisation of Scout Movement (WOSM).

Life at home was going on in its own way and as people say – where there are two Estonians, there will be three organisations … and so did the scouts here …

In the autumn of 1920 the Noorseppade Maleva (Young Smiths) was formed from part of the Tallinn scouts. There was nothing very special in that fact. The same kind of development took place in Finland, Germany and elsewhere. In my opinion the reason for such development was hidden much more in the personal relationships between the leaders than in differences in outlook or principal questions. By current understanding, the organisation of Noorsepad is considered to be a scouting organisation like all the others. The difference at that time was that both boys and girls were involved. Initially they pointed out nationalism as the main question, as Russian, German, Jewish and Polish scout troops were also involved in the Estonian Scout Association. The formal condition to be a member of the Estonian Scout Association was citizenship of the Estonian Republic. Study materials used by Noorsepad were translated from Russian and other languages as the other organisations did.

The Estonian Scout Association was formed in the 1st Congress of Scouts held in Tartu from 20th to 21st of March 1921. Leopold Tõnson stayed as Elder (Vanem, Chairman) of the organisation and a commission was formed to work out the constitution.

At first the girl-guide troops also worked together and under the leadership of the Estonian Scout Association. It was decided to issue a scouts newspaper or magazine at the congress and already in April the first number of the "Estonian Scout" was published. In 1921 it was issued in newspaper format and afterwards as a journal until 1940.

In April-May 1921 the publishing house Odamees in Tartu issued the first Scout Handbook in Estonian, composed by Arnold Tols and Hans Johanson. It debated a little about a lack of study materials in Estonian. For teaching purposes a lot of materials from scouting journals were used. These journals as well as materials were usually copied with the means of those days in a maximum of 50 copies. There were only a couple of numbers of the journal "Ole Valmis" in 1921, which came from the printing press in Tartu (its first number is dated 15th of March 1921). Single issues of scouting journals were published under the same name before and after it also.

The number of scouts increased rapidly and it made people (public, bystanders) form different opinions about the movement … they were afraid of the militarising of youth or taking boys out from their schoolwork, which didn’t allow them to learn well … On 12th of May 1921 Jaan Hünesron spoke in the Riigikogu (Parliament) to his colleagues. He introduced the principles of scouting and in his speech justified the importance of scouting activities to Estonian youth.

The usual activities of scouts as well as sea- or mounted scouts troops, formed for example in Tartu in the spring of 1921, offered various activities to young people.

One of the biggest joint events for Estonian scouts at that time was the visit to Finland in the summer of 1921 together with more than 1700 scouts and guides. That visit found a widespread and warm response on both sides of the Gulf of Finland.

At the meeting of the Estonian Scout Association Council, held on 6th of November 1921, Nikolai Kann was elected to the position of Elder of the organisation (later Peavanem).

Initial enthusiasm and increasing membership caused the need for a more serious attitude towards the preparation and training of leaders as well as a suitable structure needed for successful development of the organisation. The Estonian Scout Association was formed as the union of local associations. Beginning from April 1922 the Societies of Scouts’ Friends were formed all over the country to give a legal position to local scout and guide associations. The main goal of these societies was to support youth activities economically as well as to solve different problems that young people couldn’t do due to their age or for some other reason. These societies were officially (legally) responsible for the scouts and guides associations’ activities. They helped to find suitable rooms needed for activities and various kinds of support for organising different events, giving both financial and equipment aid.

On 8th of December 1922 the Academic Scouts’ Society was formed in Tartu. It comprised scouts, guides and leaders who came to study in the university. Thanks to the statistics group of the society we have quite good and complete data about the scouts and guides from the early years. The society organised competitions for the name of Exemplary Troop and contributed to the spreading of scouting to the smaller towns and countryside.

In March 1923 the Scoutmasters’ Corporation (Skautmasterite Kogu), to which all scoutmasters belonged, was organised by the elder scout leaders.

In 11th of March 1923 the Council of the Estonian Scout Association accepted the constitution of the organisation. For discussion and to prepare the implementation of the document, the 2nd Congress of Scouts was organised in Tallinn in 25th and 26th of March 1923. Some changes were made in November and on the 20th of November 1923 the Ministry of Education approved the Constitution. To make it available for everyone it was soon published and it finally came to force on St George’s Day 1924.

The 2nd World Jamboree and World Scouts Congress were held from 10th to 23rd of August 1924 in Copenhagen. Four representatives of the Estonian Scout Association participated there. Encouraged by the Jamboree, the idea arose of organising the same kind of event for the Estonian scouts. On the III Scouts’ Congress in 1925 leaders decided implement the idea and preparations for the first National Jamboree began. On 6th of December 1925 the first issue of the Jamboree and Tallinn Scouts Association newspaper Tallinna Skaut was published.

In 12th of April 1926 the National Board (Headquarters) accepted the design of new scout badges and certificates. Among the drafts was the scout promise badge as well as promotion badges, designed by Hugo Paalmann. The Estonian Government gave legal acceptance to that promise badge with the small coat of arms of the Estonian Republic in April 1928.

The 1st National Jamboree of the Estonian Scout Association was held in Pirita-Kose from 6th to 12th of July 1926. The camp chief was scoutmaster Hugo Paalmann. Among more than 400 participants were 16 scouts and leaders from Finland, Latvia and Italy.

In autumn 1927 Hugo Paalmann was the first Estonian scout leader who finished the Gilwell (Wood Badge) course. He was the 2320th in the general order. The Gilwell course is the highest course for scout leaders, including a theoretical part, camp (practical activities) and an administrative part (diploma work). Before 1940 the Estonian scout leaders took part of the Gilwell courses organised in England or Finland.

In 28th –29th of October 1927 the First Annual Meeting of Estonian Scout Association leaders was held instead of Scout Congresses. It was quite a good and successful change, whose positive effect was seen for a longer period.

In 22nd – 24th of June 1930 the General meeting of Sea Scouts’ troops was organised, which accepted a common uniform and programme of exams.

In 27th of May 1930 the new scouting organisation Noored Kotkad (NK, Young Eagles) was established according to the decision of the Board of Defence League (Kaitseliit). The constitution of NK was confirmed and the board elected. Johannes Tedersoo, who had done most of the preparatory work, was elected to be Chief of the Board. The formation of a new scouting organisation naturally caused some confusion and disapproval among the scouts and leaders at first, because instead of fair play NK tried to invite the whole patrols and troops to come over. Partly they were successful among Young Smiths.

In 28th of June till 7th of July 1931 the Estonian YMCA Scouts Jamboree was held in Koitjärve. The camp chief was Richard Tõnuri and there were 150 participants.

Government support for scouting was quite small. The leaders and troop elders had to find additional finances to organise camps in the way that the camp fee was appropriate for the most of boys. For example the Tallinn YMCA Scout Troop asked professor Aleksander Paldrok, elder of the Tartu Scout District, to come up with a public speech in the concert hall "Estonia" in Tallinn to cover the camp costs. Prof Paldrok kindly agreed with it and so a world famous professor of dermal and venereal diseases talked about "The sex life of young people" on 19th of March 1931 in " Estonia".

In 15th to 25th of July 1932 the 2nd National Jamboree of Estonian Scout Association was held in Valgerand (Doberan) near Pärnu. The camp chief was scoutmaster Herbert Michelson. There were 789 participants in that camp, among them 154 guests from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Hungary and France.

On 19th of August 1933 Lord Baden-Powell himself visited Estonia accompanied by 600 English scout- and guide leaders on a voyage by the S. S. Calgaric. 1500 scouts all over Estonia gathered together in Tallinn and BP told them a story at the campfire there.

On 10th – 20th of July 1936 the 3rd National Jamboree of the Estonian Scout Association was held in Paralepa near Haapsalu. The camp chief was again scoutmaster Herbert Michelson, but more than 2000 scouts were participating, among them 480 foreign guests.

The youth work in Estonia was reformed in 1936. The law about organising youth which came to force on 13th of October 1936 practically finished the activities of Young Smiths. They had now two choices - to join with Young Eagles or Estonian Scout Association. As unification of the two last ones proved impossible in a democratic way, the problem was partially solved by changing the law. On 23rd of March 1938 the changed law came to force. That law appointed the commander-in-chief of military forces as Chief of all the youth organisations and the Minister of Education was allowed to form youth organisations or their unions etc. For the reason that members of Young Eagles could take part in international events on an equal basis with scouts the formal Union of Estonian Scouts was formed, to which the Young Eagles belonged as well as scouts. This was reregistered in the World Scouts Bureau too.

The occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940 quickly solved all disputable problems. All such organisations as well as their leaders were subject to liquidation by the instructions given. To be sure that it would work, the liquidation was done in two ways - by prohibiting the activities by the new laws (from above) as well as organising "elections" of new leaders according to the organisation’s rules (from below). These new leaders quickly made an "official" decision about liquidation by the organisation constitution. Until 19th of September 1940 this process had to be finished in both ways. There was no place alongside the Pioneer organisation and Young Communist League for such a " bourgeois-nationalist" movement. The knowledge and experience gained in their scout life helped several scouts and guides to survive even in GULAG camps and come back to life from Siberia …

Kuri Habe

Nskm. Vaido Lillemaa

October 2002

Current text is direct translation from Estonian without special comments or explanations for foreigners …

© Vaido Lillemaa, 2002