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Jiří Navrátil,The tireless scout

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Arrested by the Gestapo and by the Communists, he actively participated in the survival of Scouting in the Czech Republic. Tireless, he helped it raise 3 times in 50 years!


Jiří Navrátil died on January 16, 2017, when he was president of the association “Junák”, the Czech scouts. The emotion is intense there. Scout tributes are held throughout the country. The European Scout Bureau has paid tribute to it.

It must be said that Jiří Navrátil is an impressive personality, truly impressive. Czech scouting owes him a lot… We let you discover his story.

14 years old, first steps in Scouting

Born in 1923 in Germany, of a father who was in Czechoslovakia as a diplomat, he joined the association “Junák” in 1937 in Prague, when he was 14.

Soon after, war broke out. In 1940 Scouting is banned in Czechoslovakia.
He does not hear it quite that way. So he clandestinely continued scouting under the cover of an association of teenagers “Czech Tourist Club”. And he resisted.

Czech scouts in 1940

Clandestine Czech Scouts in 1941

21 years old, arrested by the Gestapo

He was arrested in 1944 with other Scout leaders by the Gestapo. Thanks to Morse code, in prison, they managed to organize their defense and how they will testify. Many people ended up in a concentration camp. Jiří worked for Todt, a German organization which enslaved concentration camp prisoners for German constructions (which built the Atlantic Wall in France, for instance).

Jiří managed to escape and hid in Prague until the end of the war. Then he studied law. Scouting is relaunched, and he is part of it.

Czech scout in 1947

25 years, arrested by the Communists

With other scouts, he opposed to the Communist takeover in 1949. Again, they coordinated their defense with morse code and some other Scout abilities. He was sentenced to 20 years of prison for treason. He was forced to work in uranium mines. There, he founded a Rover clan “Equality” and organized clandestine activities. While the newspapers and pencils were banned in the camp, they succeeded in organizing solidarity between families, sending letters, finding medicine, accompanying depressed prisoners, organizing secret masses, readings, language courses, and they even managed to publish about twenty clandestine newspapers. He encountered serious health issues but he held on.

37 years, released

In 1960 he was granted amnesty. Then he lived with his parents. He worked among others as a maintenance agent of a public swimming pool. Then he contributed to the Czech radio and, in 1968, to a new magazine named “Doba”.

In the same year he succeeded in reviving Scouting. But in 1970 Scouting was again banned. He continued to work as a freelance journalist, including translations.

Jiří Navrátil on a camp in 1968

66 years, 3rd scouting relaunch

In 1989, he participated in the Velvet Revolution which liberated the country from communism. He actively participated in the 3rd renaissance of Scouting, and became a member of the Board of Junák, especially in the field of international relations. In 1992 he was elected president. In 1999, accompanied by Vaclav Havel, he hosted the European Conference of Guiding and Scouting.

In 2002, he was rewarded by the Bronze Wolf. He was the very first scout from Eastern Europe to receive it.

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The Junak Scouts, an organization whose history is intertwined with country one’s

Czechoslovakia was created in 1918, following the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Scouts, newly created (1910 the first scouts, 1914 independence of the association), assisted in the creation of the country : surveillance of official buildings but above all, taking charge of the postal service. They even created a special stamp, the very first scout stamp in the world ! Just before WWII, with 70.000 members, the Czech Scouts were the third largest Scout association in Europe and the seventh in the world.

And then on October 28, 1940, the Nazis forbade the existence of Scouts in Czechoslovakia. Jiří Navrátil was 17 years old. Many were involved in the resistance. We talk about 700 scouts who will died of their commitment.

In 1945 with the end of Nazi occupation, the association was relaunched. Immediate success, 120.000 members ! Of course,Jiří Navrátil was part of it. He was 21 years old.
However, it didn’t please the Communists. Again,in 1948 Scouts are suspended. Scout officials were brought to justice in 1949 and imprisoned, including Jiří Navrátil. Scout groups continued clandestinely.

1968, Spring of Prague. Scouts were once again meeting publicly. This was the 2nd renaissance of Scouting. There were 65.000 members.

October 1970, they were again forbidden. Groups had continued their activities secretly.

1989, Velvet Revolution. Scouts will reappear. 80.000 members. This time for good. They reclaimed their official recognition by the world authorities the same year. Jiří Navrátil is one of those who allowed this 3rd renaissance.


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