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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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5. Meat


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5.  Meat

“What did you have for dinner tonight”?

“Meat!” X or Y answers, beaming delightedly. “There was no meat today…” – the tone is plaintive, pessimistic, reproachful. “I am off to get some meat!” is uttered in tones of excitement and anticipation; “I have got some meat!” is pronounced with a triumphant grin. “They had no meat in the store…” is full of bitter disappointment. Human thoughts and words revolve around meat, as do the people themselves almost literally so. Meat is the subject of group psychosis; it is the trigger for violent swings from cheerful expectation to morose resignation. Omnipotent meat, the realm of fantasy and gossip […].”560

The above excerpt from October 1948 could have been equally well written in 1951, or any of the years 1959, 1963, 1970, 1976, 1980, or 1989. There is no doubt that meat – or rather the enduring shortage thereof – was the most common topic of conversation both in private homes and in government offices throughout the entire era of the Polish People’s Republic. Since individual, private farmers were the main producers of meat in Poland and the state wanted to play the role of the monopoly distributor of this Polish staple food, meat became the most common object of illegal trade and created thereby an important link between the periphery and the center, the city and the countryside, the state and the private domain. That is why we shall look not only...

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