The Year of Volunteers in Russia

The Year of Volunteers in Russia

In pre-revolutionary Russia mutual help was a common practice. Its tradition goes back to the pre-literate time as well as to the Christian feat in worldly life, which in particular involved philanthropic deeds by definition secret, anonymous or at least not publicly-known (fundraising for building churches, monuments, etc., helping fire victims, migrants, starvers, personal care of the sick, needy, travellers and prisoners).

During the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878 nuns of the St. Nicholas Convent in Moscow volunteered as sisters of mercy to help wounded soldiers on the front. The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent was founded in the early 1860s in Europe. One of its fundamental principles was voluntariness. This organization played a prominent role in Russia during World War I. The branch of the International Red Cross in Russia was closed in the 1930s. Various public organizations, which provided help for the poor, appeared in the early 20th century.

In the Soviet Union the authorities were anxious to make benevolent deeds and aspirations part of the state policy, thus significant changes in the forms of volunteering were brought about, making it official. A system of formally voluntary campaigns was gradually built, which involved community work days (subbotnik), various military organizations — the Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation and Navy (its predecessor – OSOAVIAKHIM), the Voluntary People's Guard and others.

In the early 1990s - the time of new political realities - volunteer movement underwent significant changes. On August 11, 1995 the Law “On Charity and Charitable Organizations” was passed, which defined volunteers as “citizens who perform charitable acts in interests of a recipient, including charitable organizations, and whose work is unpaid”.

By the mid 2000s, the society in general and especially young people showed determination to perform selfless acts that were good for the soul and beneficial to the society. Particularly noticeable was the voluntary work of the search parties (gradually recognized by the Ministry of Defence). Volunteers regularly provided assistance at sporting, cultural, educational events, to name just a few.

The collection is built up of official documents, studies, reports of voluntary societies, archival papers and photographs that cast light on various stages of development of the volunteer movement in Russia.

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