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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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6. Alcohol


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6.  Alcohol

The excessive alcohol consumption in communist Poland has been a topic of extensive research. We therefore need not dwell on the social and cultural context of the phenomenon and focus instead on its most important black market aspects such as illegal alcohol production and unofficial distribution of state-produced alcohol.773

In communist Poland’s second economy, alcohol vied for top position with meat and the US dollar. Without a doubt, however, it was alcohol that had the longest tradition on the black market. Polish peasants became adept at breaking the state spirit monopoly as early as the 19th century. High alcohol consumption was traditional in their way of life, the ingredients necessary for alcohol production, such as grain and potatoes, were within easy reach and their natural habitat was less easy to keep under official supervision than the cities. No wonder that when the monopolist state encountered financial problems and tried to reach deeper into the wallets of Polish alcohol drinkers, they reacted by developing effective defense strategies.

Ubiquitous moonshine distillation began in the Polish territories at the outbreak of the First World War, with the introduction of prohibition in the Russian Empire. Alcohol production was banned and most of the supply destroyed. German and Austrian occupation of the Kingdom of Poland made little difference, since the new occupiers did not resume local alcohol distillation and rigidly controlled both production and consumption. Unsurprisingly, illegal breweries began to pop up like...

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