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The history of the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association

How did the history of Polish Scouting and Guiding Association start? Who brought scouting and guiding to Poland? What are the most important milestones in lifespan of our organisation.

“Scouting for Boys” and Andrzej Małkowski

Our story began in 1910 in the Austria-Hungary partition of Poland when Andrzej Małkowski translated the book ‘Scouting for Boys’. It was a spark that spread through all the Polish lands: since then, thanks to the activism of Małkowski and his wife Olga Drahonowska-Małkowska, hundreds of thousands of young people have experienced a Scouting or Guiding adventure. Their motto is “Czuwaj!” which means: “Stay awake!” or “Be prepared!”.

Day of Independence

Between 1918 and 1939, when Poland regained its independence after 123 years of being absent from world maps, Polish Scouts and Guides had been actively participating in the social life of the nation. Before 1939, the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association (ZHP), a founding member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, was one of the largest social and educational associations in Poland with over 200,000 members.

‘Today-Tomorrow-The day after tomorrow’ – Difficult time of World War II

After building a democratic, multi-national and multi-religious country, World War II interrupted our work. Polish scouts felt obliged to fulfil their promise to serve the country and the nation. ZHP operated under the code name ‘Szare Szeregi’ (‘Grey Ranks’). During wartime they followed the pre-war programme of service, education and improving skills: their motto was ‘Today-Tomorrow-The Day After Tomorrow’. ‘Today’ for education in the occupied country and acquiring skills necessary to live after the war, ‘Tomorrow’ for participation in a military uprising and finally ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ for the creation of a free and independent Poland. In 1944 many scouts took part in the Warsaw Uprising and many of them were paramedics, messengers or soldiers.

Development and growth

The Day After Tomorrow never came. Poland became a communist country and we had to withdraw from WOSM and WAGGGS. Nevertheless, ZHP continued their work, involving successive generations of young people. The Polish Scouting and Guiding Association (ZHP) became one of the very few official organisations that retained some independence from the communist party which lead to a growth in the number of members. In 1980 the ZHP counted more than three million members. At that time Polish Scouts and Guides were involved in a variety of activities, from helping farmers in the fields of the poorest regions to organising the visits of Pope John Paul II.

New chapter in ZHP’s history

After martial law was imposed on in 1981, the ZHP was the only large social organisation which was not prohibited. In the reformative climate of the late 1980’s, the ZHP could adopt some of Polish Scouting and Guiding’s pre-war traditions. In 1989 communism in Poland collapsed and in 1993 President Lech Wałęsa (Nobel Prize winner and leader of Solidarity movement) became the honorary protector of the ZHP, just like all former Polish presidents. In 1996 the ZHP re-joined WOSM and WAGGGS and a new international chapter in ZHP’s history began.