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Meanings of Jazz in State Socialism

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Edited By Gertrud Pickhan and Rüdiger Ritter

During the Cold War, jazz became a cultural weapon that was employed by both sides to advance their interests. This volume explores the history and roles of jazz in Poland, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union, and the Baltic States by means of several case studies. The American administration attempted to destabilize the political systems of the Eastern Bloc countries, while the powers responsible for culture in the Eastern Bloc countries tried to curtail the US propaganda campaign. This resulted in distinct jazz traditions and jazz scenes, each governed by a distinct behavioural codex, as well as official responses in each of the Eastern Bloc countries.
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The Jazz Section: Disintegration through Jazz

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Abstract Focussing on Czechoslovakia, this study argues that the Jazz Section (1971–1986) provided one of the most attractive platforms for free and independent culture during the normalization period of the country (post-1968). Initially responsible for the organization of jazz events like the Prague Jazz Days, it later also introduced rock and other avant-garde music to the wider public. Even though the Jazz Section started off as an officially recognized institution meant to support socialist musical life in Czechoslovakia, it soon became a model for non-conformist behaviour and a symbol of resistance against the repressions of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.

The harsh reality of daily life in ‘normalized’ Czechoslovakia in the 1970s led, as a means of cultural self-defence, to the emergence of a wide variety of alternative and especially underground cultures.2 These subcultures were, besides other things, the natural reaction to the rejection of one of the key articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that ‘[e]veryone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’,3 principles that even the Czechoslovak Republic (ČSR) had committed itself to.4 Whereas in free societies underground cultures are commonly regarded ← 157 | 158 → as alternative cultural movements which exist outside the scope of popular mass culture and generally direct their cultural expressions against the establishment, the situation was very different in Czechoslovakia, which was a ‘cultural desert...

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