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Socialist Escapes

Socialist Escapes: Breaking Away from Ideology and Everyday Routine in Eastern Europe, 1945-1989

Cathleen M. Giustino
Catherine J. Plum
Alexander Vari
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Socialist Escapes
    Book Description:

    During much of the Cold War, physical escape from countries in the East Bloc was a near impossible act. There remained, however, possibilities for other socialist escapes, particularly time away from party ideology and the mundane routines of everyday life. The essays in this volume examine sites of socialist escapes, such as beaches, camp sites, nightclubs, concerts, castles, cars, and soccer matches. The chapters explore the effectiveness of state efforts to engineer society through leisure, entertainment, and related forms of cultural programming and consumption, as it was in leisure and tourism that the party's intentions encountered Eigen-Sinn, the pursuit of individual interests. This volume leads to a deeper understanding of state- society relations in the East Bloc, where the state did not simply "dictate from above" and inhabitants had some opportunities to shape solidarities, identities, and meaning.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-670-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. viii-ix)
    Cathleen M. Giustino
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction. Escaping the Monotony of Everyday Life under Socialism
    (pp. 1-24)
    Alexander Vari

    It is November 1955. Gyuri, a young Hungarian basketball player, is on a train traveling to a provincial city south-east of Budapest. The incessant sound of a man snoring in his compartment bothers him so much that he decides to step out. The connection between the passive state of sleep and his decision to leave the scene unexpectedly triggers in Gyuri the desire to put behind him the whole experience of living under communism by “sleep[ing] through the entire thing, only [to] wake up when everything ha[s] changed.” What bothers Gyuri most is the boredom of life under communism. He...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Instrumentalizing Entertainment and Education: Early Cold-War Music Festivals in East Germany and Poland
    (pp. 27-47)
    David G. Tompkins

    For the communist parties of Central Europe in the early Cold War, the arts were a key tool for influencing their populations and implementing political goals. Music occupied a particularly important position in German and Polish cultural life, and cultural officials accorded it an unusual power to affect worldviews. As seen in the song lyrics above, communists and their sympathizers considered music to be a powerful, unifying force that would mobilize their citizenries behind the leadership and aims of the party.² Music festivals in particular served as an entertaining break from everyday life and a way to shape the perceptions...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Open Gates and Wandering Minds: Codes, Castles, and Chateaux in Socialist Czechoslovakia before 1960
    (pp. 48-72)
    Cathleen M. Giustino

    In June 1950, Milada Horáková and three codefendants were hanged on fabricated charges of treason after they were sentenced to death in socialist Czechoslovakia’s first show trial following the communist takeover of the country in February 1948. Horáková had served in the Czech underground resistance against the Nazis during World War II, and then in Czechoslovakia’s short-lived, post-war multiparty parliament.¹ At this time alarms were also sounding in newspapers and movie theatres across the country about another fabled “ scourge,” namely, American potato beetles purportedly sent by the United States government to devour Czechoslovakia’s food and starve its people.² The...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Encountering Poland’s “Wild West”: Tourism in the Bieszczady Mountains under Socialism
    (pp. 75-97)
    Patrice M. Dabrowski

    Ranczo Texas(Rancho Texas) might seem an unlikely title for a movie produced and shown anywhere in the Soviet-dominated Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Nevertheless, in 1959, an adventure film with this name debuted in the theaters of the Polish socialist state. Not surprisingly, given the closed borders separating the two spheres of superpower influence,Ranczo Texasdid not feature the open plains of the wild American West. Rather, it was shot at home in the People’s Republic of Poland. Importantly for this chapter, this first Polish “Western” was set in a corner of Poland that previously had been...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Summer Camp for Socialists: Conformity and Escapism at Camp Mitschurin in East Germany
    (pp. 98-124)
    Catherine J. Plum

    For many former East German citizens, collective memories of a Cold-War childhood include the delight of unwrapping chocolate, toys, clothes, and other consumer goods in Western packaging. Surprisingly, one story of Western temptation and escapism transpired in a youth camp for future socialist leaders that was controlled by the official communist youth organization, the Pioneers. At Camp Mitschurin in Thuringia, Pioneers hiking in the summer of 1965 saw Western motorists one day.¹ The travelers began to throw candy from their car windows, and the children eagerly collected the treats.² Pioneer camp leaders frowned upon such incidents, however, as undesirable diversions....

  11. CHAPTER 5 From the Party to the Beach Party: Nudism and Artistic Expression in the People’s Republic of Romania
    (pp. 127-144)
    Irina Costache

    Throughout the difficult decades of Romanian state socialism from 1948 through December 1989, “2 Mai (May 2),” a small fishing village on the Romanian-Bulgarian border, was a popular destination among Romanians looking for a summer respite from the bleakness of daily life in their country.¹ Far from major cities and the usual circuit of socialist-style resorts, 2 Mai lacked basic tourist amenities, including running water, electricity, restaurants, hotels, or campsites. To get there from the closest railway station, one had to walk or bike for five kilometers while carrying drinking water and basic foodstuffs. To make matters worse, entire areas...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Smoke and Beers: Touristic Escapes and Places to Party in Socialist Bulgaria, 1956–1976
    (pp. 145-164)
    Mary Neuburger

    In August 1964 an article entitled “A Day of Rest” appeared inTurist,the Bulgarian socialist journal dedicated to leisure and holiday travel. The author included a photo essay in which a series of photos walked the reader through a carefully crafted parable of leisure, which juxtaposed the industrious, healthy Ivan Markov to the slovenly, lazy Dimitŭr Ivanov. Both were enjoying their “day of rest” in diametrically opposed fashions: Ivan in a properly socialist, “productive” fashion, and Dimitŭr in an idle and ultimately counter-productive manner. On this precious Sunday off , Ivan traveled to an unspecified mountain using an unspecified...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Hitchhikers’ Paradise: The Intersection of Mass Mobility, Consumer Demand, and Ideology in the People’s Republic of Poland
    (pp. 167-186)
    Mark Keck-Szajbel

    When 28-year-old Karin Stanek took to the stage in 1963 performing as the lead singer and guitarist of the bandCzerwono-Czarni,she attained fame through her song “Let’s Go Hitchhiking” (“Jedziemy autostopem”), in which she promised that she was:

    Goin’ hitchhiking, hitchhiking

    Brother, that way you get across Europe

    Where the roads are unknown, brothers dare to go,

    About what happens next, don’t worry

    Autostop, autostop,go on and go!

    The cars are goin’, they’ll pick you up,

    Today that car’s gonna take us….

    As if fulfilling the prophecy of hitchhiking across Europe, Stanek eventually emigrated from Poland to West...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Nocturnal Entertainments, Five-Star Hotels, and Youth Counterculture: Reinventing Budapest’s Nightlife under Socialism
    (pp. 187-210)
    Alexander Vari

    With these words, Lehel Németh sang the praises of the new nocturnal appearance of the Hungarian capital in a 1960s hit song.¹ What these song lyrics did not explicitly disclose, however, was that the neon glare in which Budapest now basked was part of an attempt that socialist authorities in the Kádár regime made to revive the city’s nightlife.² In addition to neon lights, and as part of a concerted effort to catch up with the West, by the mid-1970s Budapest was able to offer visitors luxurious accommodations in five-star hotels, including the Duna Inter-Continental and Hilton, a richer array...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Getting off Track in East Germany: Adolescent Motorcycle Fans and Honecker’s Consumer Socialism
    (pp. 213-231)
    Caroline Fricke

    With spring fever in the air, some seventy thousand motorcycle enthusiasts hit the road on Pentecost weekend for the famous Bergring tracks, home of the longest natural grass racetrack in Europe.¹ The year was 1988, and as some youthful fans sputtered along in their Trabants, the new hit song “Bergringrennen” by the East German heavy metal band Crystal could be heard on the radio.² In the background of the song, motorcycle gears roar; it quickly transitions into heavy drumming followed by an electric guitar riff. A coarse voice sings, “When the sun rises higher and the days get longer everyone...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Power at Play: Soccer Stadiums and Popular Culture in 1980s Romania
    (pp. 232-251)
    Florin Poenaru

    On 26 June 1988, in front of a crowd of approximately fifty thousand spectators, the archrivals Dinamo (Dynamo) and Steaua (Red Star) Bucharest met in a Soccer Cup final at the Romanian National Stadium, which was called “23 August” to commemorate the Soviet army’s liberation of Romania in 1944. One minute before the game’s end, the teams were level with one goal scored by each side, and then Steaua made a further push and managed to score. The referee, however, denied the tie-breaking goal to the team, calling it offside. This call set Steaua’s players and supporters on fire. They...

  17. Conclusion. Escapes and Other Border Crossings in Socialist Eastern Europe
    (pp. 252-260)
    Cathleen M. Giustino

    In December 1971, Ladislav Bezák undertook a daring plan of escape from socialist Czechoslovakia with his wife and their four young sons. Bezák and his family attempted to flee their native land in a self-built, single-engine monoplane. The 39-year-old pilot had special qualifications for this dangerous mission; he was the first World Aerobatic Champion, a title honoring his skills as a stunt-pilot and his development of the “lomcovák,” a death–defying aeronautic maneuver in which a pilot deliberately tumbles a plane end-over-end while dropping straight down from a high altitude. Despite his flying prowess, escaping from the East Bloc would...

  18. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 261-266)
  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  20. Index
    (pp. 271-284)