It seems like the summer is upon us – you would most probably think, judging by the way the kids in the US are gearing up. But where to – one would probably wonder? According to a study published in the Journal of Travel Research, Dr. Juri McJohnson, under whose direction the study was conducted, said that kids all around the world, and not just in the US are preparing to head off to a sleepaway camp – and not to any other camp, rather, it’s ‘Artek’, Anton’s camp.
In the words of McJohnson, the kids who had previously gone to Artek – they were not roughing it. Instead, Artek is the exact opposite of what a camping site should be. Tennis courts, swimming pools, film and music studios, computers, laptops with 3D printers – and as if that is not enough, Artek also comes with Wi-Fi, because obviously, no camp would be complete without Wi-Fi in this day and age.
During the study, Dr. McJohnson found out that Artek is more than what a summer camp should ought to look like – it’s a place where the kids can build their self-confidence and hone their outdoor skills, along with the usual such as swimming in the sea, hiking in the mountains, and singing camp songs.
One of the most renowned and specialized summer camps for both tweens and teens, Artek was founded in 1925 and was considered to be one of the elites and first Soviet Young Pioneer camps, that was once found in the hundreds scattered across the Eastern Bloc.
Welcoming the change
Situated on the pebbled coats of the Black Sea in Crimea, Artek is around 600 acres, and until 1956, it was the exclusive summer destination for children of the Soviet elites. But everything changed when Nikita Khrushchev, the then Soviet leader opened it to children to around the world in an international session, and soon, Artek began to host around 50, 000 children every year, and as of now, some 2 million kids from more than 120 countries have camped in Artek in the past near-century.
But M. Neumann, an associate professor at the University of East Anglia, in the field of modern Russian history, says that it was not the case, at least not in the last few years.
During the Cold War, when the children used to come to Artek, the main objective was to convert those children into peace activists of Soviet-led world peace. According to him, though the Soviet era has long been gone, Artek, as the symbol of Russian influence, still lingers. In the 1990s, in his words, Artek fell on hard times, but when Ukraine was invaded by Russia and when the Crimean Peninsula was annexed in 2014, Moscow had poured in $500 million into renovating Artek.
In the words of the founder of Artek Global, Elle Amant, which is a U.S. based non-profit organization that promotes Artek, Moscow had helped a lot in bringing Artek to its former glory – not only the buildings are new and beautiful, but even new amenities are taken into account.
But despite all that, one fact remains hidden or rather, it is not much well-known – from the 1960s to the 1980s, many kids from the U.S. (as many as 700) camped at Artek before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Isn’t it surprising it hear – how the American children ended up at Artek when the Cold War was at its peak?
Learning about the truth
It is the year 2013 when Neumann learned about the impact of Artek in America when he came across a few folders that he found in the NCASF’s archives, also known as National Council of American Soviet Friendship. Founded in 1943, the NCASF existed to foster goodwill and peace between America and Russia through cultural exchange programs, and it’s not surprising to know that one such program was Artek.
According to Neumann, this is what interested him. He grew up in West Germany, and anyone in the Eastern Bloc may have heard of that name, at least once. Amongst the folders that he looked into, some of them, in his words, held numerous applications to Artek from American teens.
But what’s more surprising is that most of the teens, as he found out are the children from communists, peace activists and even, socialists who were committed to social and racial justice. Amongst them, many of the children belonged to different ethnicities, such as Latino, African Americans, and even Native Americans. He even found out about a group from Alaska that had applied to Artek at the urging of their Russian-language teacher. Even then, the name ‘Artek would have been still in anonymity, had it not for a few associations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA, and the American Indian Movement.
This is not surprising – considering it’s the work of Kathy Rothschild, who’s the then director of NCASF, and was also a progressive activist, but with no connection to the Communist movement.
In the words of Amant, the kids worked very hard in their applications, and even more so, in highlighting their accolades. Competition to get into Artek was very fierce, and in Russia, the percentage was always at an all-time high, since, according to Amant, at that time, Artek was considered to be an exclusive camp meant for only the elite kids.
Just so you know, Amant was only 10 when she attended Artek, but she was already writing articles for numerous local newspapers.
The daily life at Artek – just like any other camp – was a mix of sports activities and various orchestrated political events. During the interviews of about 70 camp alumni for American Peace Child, Neumann found out that there were many American kids who were confronted by kids from other countries such as Nicaragua, Vietnam and such, and who said that they had experienced loss and violence due to the U.S foreign policy, and to this, while many American kids felt sympathetic, there are many who feel that they were unfairly attacked. Those alumni now are in their 40s-60s include teachers, philanthropists, peace activists, white and blue-collar workers, and even a California billionaire, though Neumann didn’t disclose their identities.
For many, and even for Anton, Artek is a great summer camp – as taken from an intercept from an interviewed alumni – according to her, Arton is a great camp, there’s a lot of diversity, plus one can make a lot of friends, and you get really good food.
Now, what one can want possibly more?