Shop Around the Bloc

Mark Keck-Szajbel

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI:
Shop Around the Bloc

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When in the 1970s authorities decided to open borders between East Germany and Poland, the number of tourists traveling to their respective socialist neighbor exploded overnight. This border project—called the “Borders of Friendship”—is unanimously seen by historians as a failure. Not only did the period of liberalized travel result in planning problems as each country’s citizens bought up the others’ hard-to-find goods, it also brought mutual scorn for doing so. In this contribution, Mark Keck-Szajbel examines the Polish popular press, revealing how government authorities in People’s Poland approached trans-border consumption. To be sure, Poles were admonished for smuggling and illegal trade; but officials were also quick to realize the instrumental value of having a secondary marketplace to provide citizens with cheaper and more-available goods. In research to date, the phenomenon of trader-tourism is usually seen as a strictly prohibited or at best unofficially condoned. In the case of the “Borders of Friendship,” however, Keck-Szajbel argues that Polish authorities actively encouraged it. Hence, when East Germany moved to unilaterally close the border in 1980, Poles complained about discrimination and unfair treatment.

Keywords: Poland; East Germany; trader-tourism; consumption; travel in socialism; 1970s East German-Polish relations

Chapter.  7545 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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