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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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9. The Tourist Trade in Communist Poland


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9.  The Tourist Trade in Communist Poland1131

9.1  Trading Tourism:1132 Introduction

“Friends of mine often go on trips abroad by car. I asked them once where they’d been that summer. ‘Bulgaria,’ the husband said. ‘No, Romania,’ the wife put him straight. He was not at all sure where he had been. What he was sure about was how the prices in that country related to prices in Poland. He boasted that he had never spent a cent on a trip abroad.”1133

This anecdote illustrates very well one of the most enduring and ubiquitous black market phenomena. The tourist trade – which at a stroke broke the state monopoly of foreign trade, and made a mockery of customs, tax, and hard currency regulations – reached a mass scale in the second half of the 1950s when the borders became less impermeable and lasted, albeit only by a few years, beyond the fall of the communist system in 1989. This phenomenon was more complex than it seemed: its range and scale were broader, the group of participants – larger, and the motivation behind their involvement diverse.1134

Shortages were a permanent feature of the economies of the Soviet Bloc; some argued that they were a systemic flaw rather than merely a matter of malfunctioning. They were painful for the citizens, who developed endemic accommodative and defensive strategies, similar in all the countries behind the Iron Curtain. Local strategies alone were...

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