The Pioneer Alliance of Yugoslavia and the Making of Socialist Citizens

Igor Duda
Yugoslav pioneers

During the Second World War but especially after 1945, the Yugoslav Communist Party was keen on developing a ‘new man’ for a new society, at first by following the Soviet model and later by developing a special Yugoslav kind of socialist and self-managed citizen. In the formative phase of socialism it was expected that such a person should be physically and morally healthy, brave and creative, have a rich inner life and an openness to new ideas, as well as be ready to love his or her own country while showing respect for other nations. Post-war educational and political short courses and the various activities of a number of mass socialist organisations were crucial for the making of socialist citizens. Among these organisations was the Pioneer Alliance of Yugoslavia, whose role was to involve children, a group supposedly untouched by other ideologies and ready to be included in socialist education from the very beginning, according to “the line of the Party and comrade Tito”.[1]

The Pioneer Alliance of Yugoslavia had its origins in World War II and the National Liberation Movement. It was founded in 1942 in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the 1st Congress of the United Alliance of Anti-Fascist Youth of Yugoslavia. For the first eight years it was closely tied to the youth organisation, but then it was reorganised and put under the jurisdiction of the newly established Council of the Pioneer Alliance and the republican and federal organisations for the care and upbringing of children. Throughout the socialist period all first graders at the age of six or seven were admitted to the organisation and stayed members until the seventh grade, when at the age of thirteen or fourteen they entered the Alliance of Socialist Youth. As pioneers, children were active through pioneer sections in elementary schools and took part in different educational, cultural, sport and leisure activities. A few times a year, on state holidays, anniversaries and special events, children would wear their pioneer uniforms of regular dark blue trousers or skirts and white shirts or blouses. Additional parts of this uniform were given on admittance into the organisation: a red scarf and a blue or sometimes white cap with a red star in the front and a pioneer badge on the side. Membership booklets included the basic information on the functioning of the organisation and its goals. The school pioneer section had a flag, trumpet and drum, while its leadership was elected among the pioneers in charge of the pioneer communities at the class level. The symbols and the idea of such an organisation found direct inspiration in the Soviet pioneers, a fact which made some want to disband the pioneer organisation after the Yugoslav-Soviet split in 1948. However, the Pioneer Alliance survived and was active until the late 1980s.

Becoming a pioneer was a political ritual, a rite of passage which changed the position of a child in the community.[2] It was the moment of initiation into socialist society in which children went from being “ideologically undecided” to “ideologically decided”.[3] Admission to the Pioneer Alliance took place every year around Republic Day, November 29. The birth of new political beings thus coincided with the birth of Democratic Federative Yugoslavia at the 2nd session of the Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) held in Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1943. Moreover, two years later – on November 29, 1945 – the Federative People’s Republic of Yugoslavia was proclaimed at the federal parliament session in Belgrade. The connection to the crucial state holiday was expected to be a great honour for the children:

This great holiday is celebrated by the pioneer organisation, too. Pioneers are precisely the ones who will inherit the historic decisions of November 29, who will accept our social reality and continue the victorious path of our country with the same commitment and struggle as their parents. Therefore, it is clear that even in their early age pioneers are becoming familiar with the meaning of November 29 and they celebrate it as their own holiday, as a day which enabled them to have a good life and happy future.[4]

Some of the goals of the pioneer organisation can be deduced from the connection with Republic Day, but they are more explicit in the organisation’s expressed list of goals, which state that the “aim of the Alliance of Pioneers is to contribute to the socialist upbringing of children of primary-school age. Born in our socialist revolution, with its current activities the Alliance fosters continuity of the revolution among the youngest generation.”[5]

Another goal was to influence the formation of a certain personality. The word pioneer, taken as an acronym in the form of pionir in Croatian and Serbian, was understood as a collection of the desirable characteristics found in children, who were: honest (pošten), sincere (iskren), brave (odvažan), progressive (napredan), persistent (istrajan) and hardworking (radišan). Although these characteristics represent a collection of excellent human qualities, they had a strong ideological meaning. They were intended to be the basis of the child’s future development as a socialist citizen – a new man and woman. Children with such qualities could become successful members of the Alliance of Socialist Youth, later join another association under the umbrella of the Socialist Alliance of Working People and even become a member of the League of Communists. According to its 1958 Programme, the Party expected every communist to be a “vanguard force”, a person aspiring for progress, resistant to petty-bourgeois ideas, always ready to be a fighter, but also aware of his or her weaknesses and sensitive to every non-socialist manifestation in his or her environment. In the same vein, twenty years later the resolution of the 8th Congress of the Croatian League of Communists stressed that: “Moral character, ideological and political commitment, combativeness and perseverance in the battle for the interests of the working class and active participation in the working and living environment are fundamental values ​​upon which someone is admitted to the League of Communists.” Communists were expected to be the best among socialist citizens, but not a single citizen was supposed to be exempt from the patriotic feelings and high demands imposed from early childhood. Apart from the expectations inscribed in the word pionir, there was a more elaborate explanation in the pioneers’ oath, only this time less general and more embedded in the particular Yugoslav context. Although the oath went through several changes, its different versions from the early 1950s and mid-1980s focused on the same ideas. In the formative years of socialism a pioneer pledged to learn and work as a faithful son of the homeland, to protect the brotherhood and unity of Yugoslav peoples, the homeland’s freedom and independence, and to do everything to make Yugoslavia happy and rich.[6] Children of late socialism recited an extended version, but the message was still the same: learning and working, honesty and faithfulness, appreciation for the partisans and all progressive people of the world, liberty and peace, love for the self-managing socialist Yugoslavia, its brotherly nations and nationalities, and a promise to build a new life full of happiness and joy. The lines were repeated before an army officer who was there as a reminder of the partisan past, a protector in the present and a role model for the future. In spite of the demilitarisation of the Pioneer Alliance after 1950 and the cancellation of some of its activities, children in uniforms still resembled little soldiers thanks to the partisan-style cap with a red star and the official salutation, shouted with a fist laid on the temple.

Apart from the declarative statements and school celebrations, concrete programmes were organised for the pioneers, although not with the same intensity in every Yugoslav republic, and with differences among the local municipalities and schools, where a lot depended on the individual enthusiasm of teachers and other stakeholders. Activities and practices were largely shaped in the 1950s and 1960s. They changed over time, sometimes acquiring fresh energy and sometimes turning into traditions which were taken for granted or even left to disappear. There were pioneers’ libraries and theatres, pioneers’ homes and towns, summer camps and tours, sporting competitions, programmes for the popularisation of natural and technical sciences, cooperation with the Red Cross and other organisations, pioneers’ baton and relay races, journals and handbooks, New Year’s festivities and presents, as well as international cooperation.

The common denominator – sometimes explicit, sometimes hidden or self-evident – of all the pioneers’ activities was patriotism and the basic values of socialist Yugoslavia, such as its history in the National Liberation War, the ideology of brotherhood and unity and the cult of Josip Broz Tito. The turning point after which children were exposed to political ideology was age six or seven. The process could be initiated earlier in nurseries or within the family, but the making of a future socialist citizen really began only after starting school and becoming a pioneer. School curricula and the Pioneer Alliance acted together in this process, with numerous similarities to the efforts of any other educational system worldwide which strived to develop a consciousness of belonging to a nation and a state, as well as to a political ideology, placed wherever between democracy and totalitarianism. However, the activities planned for children had another important role, especially in the formative decades of socialism and in particular in smaller towns and agricultural areas. Through the Pioneer Alliance, children from less developed areas could participate more easily in a number of extracurricular activities and thus experience the effects of modernisation in the post-war period. The context was set by the League of Communists and all the tools were there to support its ideas, but altogether it was much more than mere ideologisation of childhood. The pioneers’ activities were a sort of exercise which enabled children to participate in the life of the local community and helped them prepare for the self-managed socialist society. It might also be argued that all this laid a good foundation for different forms of activism in late socialism and eventually contributed to the formation of many elements of contemporary civil society.


Igor Duda is Assistant Professor at the Juraj Dobrila University of Pula in Croatia. His book about the Pioneer Alliance, based on his work in the research project Making of the Socialist Man. Croatian Society and the Ideology of Yugoslav Socialism, will appear in 2015.


[1] I. zemaljska konferencija Savjeta Saveza pionira NR Hrvatske (1951). Zagreb: SPH, 54.

[2] Rihtman-Auguštin, D. (1990). Metamorfoza socijalističkih praznika. Narodna umjetnost, 27, 28. Malešević, M. (1984). Prijem u pionirsku organizaciju. Etnološke sveske, 5, 74.

[3] Erdei, I. (2004). “The Happy Child“ as an Icon of Socialist Transformation: Yugoslavia's Pioneer Organization, in: Lampe, J., Mazower, M. (eds.). Ideologies and National Identities: The Case of Twentieth-Century Southeast Europe. Budapest, London: CEU Press, 155.

[4] Paravina, E. (1951). Proslava Dana Republike u pionirskoj organizaciji. Zagreb: SPH, 7.

[5] Paravina, E. (1983). Pioniri i nastavnici o Savezu pionira. Rezultati istraživanja u SR Hrvatskoj 1982. Zagreb: SDND SRH, 88.

[6] Duda, I. (2013). Djeca socijalističke domovine. Izgrađivanje pionirske tradicije u Hrvatskoj 1950-ih godina, in: Duraković, L., Matošević, A. (eds.). Socijalizam na klupi. Jugoslavensko društvo očima nove postjugoslavenske humanistike. Zagreb, Pula: Srednja Europa et al., 90-91.