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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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4. The (Historical) Geography of the Black Market in the Polish People’s Republic


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4.  The (Historical) Geography of the Black Market in the Polish People’s Republic

4.1  General Remarks

This chapter does not aspire to present detailed characteristics of the centers of illicit distilling, illegal slaughter, smuggling, or of the hard currency trade. It aims rather to demonstrate correlations between black market phenomena and the geographical and historical context. There is no doubt, for example, that the partitions of Poland or the border changes and mass migrations after Second World War to this day continue to influence the political, social, economic and cultural situation in Poland.418

The geographical and historical determinants of the second economy were already in evidence immediately after the war. It was already clear in January 1948 that the local representative powers of the Special Commission for Combating Fraud and Corruption had to stand up against specific, at times endemic, phenomena. The Kraków and Bielsko sections of the Commission had to deal with smuggling, Kielce – with illegal leather tanning, Szczecin – also with contraband but mostly with looting.419 The capital of Poland, Warsaw, was traditionally considered the center and the seedbed of all “speculation operations”.

The post-partition legacy was also apparent. For example in 1957 when operations began against “economic criminals” who were also Party members, the greatest challenges arose in the regions where different historical traditions met. While in the Upper Silesia part of the Katowice voivodship, there were few, if any, problems in the former Polish...

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