Chapter

Tuzex and the Hustler

Paulina Bren

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199827657.003.0001
Tuzex and the Hustler

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Through a discussion of Bony a Klid, a controversial film from the late 1980s in Czechoslovakia, Paulina Bren explores the role of the hustler under socialism. The hustler was closely associated with Tuzex, the hard currency retail chain where goods as varied as Austrian coffee, Sony television sets, foreign and domestic cars, and weekend houses were on offer. Hard currency stores, present throughout the Eastern Bloc but expanding significantly in the 1970s, reoriented value systems and social hierarchies. Central to these changes, certainly in the case of Czechoslovakia, was the hustler—a hard currency gangster, the middle man between ordinary citizens and the state-run Tuzex stores. These hustlers, who bought store vouchers for German marks and American dollars and sold them at profit for Czech crowns, soon morphed into syndicated criminal gangs. With the power and money to live outside of the socialist framework, they were the underground counterpart to the Party elite, and the poster boys of consumer excess. While the hustler was frowned upon by much of the public as criminal and extortionary, at the same time his consumption, for many, represented an attractive ideal. This contradiction impacted both the communist and post-communist era: Bren argues that because of Tuzex and the hustler, corruption and capitalist economic practices had been closely linked in the public’s mind long before the democracy revolutions of 1989 and the post-communist economies.

Keywords: Czechoslovakia; Tuzex; Intershop; hard currency; communism; consumption; consumer culture; shopping; black market; criminal

Chapter.  9616 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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