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Through the Back Door

The Black Market in Poland 1944–1989


Jerzy Kochanowski

This book analyzes the history of the black market in Poland before the 1940s and the development of black-market phenomena in post-war Poland. The author evaluates the interrelation between black-market phenomena and historical and geographical conditions. At first, the black market stabilized the system by making it more flexible and creating a margin of freedom, albeit in the short term. In the long run, the informal economic activities of the people ran counter to and undermined the official ideology of the state. The author concludes that in post-war Poland, owing to a singular coincidence of historical, political, economic and social factors, the second economy had its own unique character and an endemic presence that loomed large in the Soviet Bloc.

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3. The Polish (anti) Speculation Curve: 1944–1989


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3.  The Polish (anti) Speculation Curve: 1944–1989

Even though the shortages in post-war Poland were not always acute, there never existed a balanced market, crucial for the elimination of the black market. These shortages were curve-shaped – rising briefly in times of prosperity, then quickly falling again, when store shelves emptied and the lines got longer. The Polish authorities and the Polish people faced the necessity of having to invent increasingly sophisticated strategies. The critical turning point came when the authorities decided it was time for an unorthodox approach, reaching new highs in repression. In post-war Poland there had always existed professional, both uniformed and civilian, institutions for dealing with economic crime. They could be effective but at the same time even under an authoritarian regime they had limitations imposed by rules. The status attached to an institution of the state was a stigma and they could not count on social acceptance. Additional institutions were therefore set up, neutrally called “commissions” or “teams” in order to create the illusion that the state was loosening its grip. These commissions combined the structures of the state, labor unions, and social organizations and gave an impression of mass social participation or popular support for their activities. Until 1980, the authorities had a monopoly on information and propaganda, so they found it easy to manipulate public opinion, characterizing certain groups as a threat and enemy of the state and fanning citizens’ wrath against them. This was not hard...

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