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Goods and States: The Political Logic of State-Socialist Material Culture

  • Krisztina Fehérváry (a1)

In the two decades since the fall of state socialism, the widespread phenomenon of nostalgie in the former Soviet satellites has made clear that the everyday life of state socialism, contrary to stereotype, was experienced and is remembered in color. Nonetheless, popular accounts continue to depict the Soviet bloc as gray and colorless. As Paul Manning (2007) has argued, color becomes a powerful tool for legitimating not only capitalism, but democratic governance as well. An American journalist, for example, recently reflected on her own experience in the region over a number of decades:

It's hard to communicate how colorless and shockingly gray it was behind the Iron Curtain … the only color was the red of Communist banners. Stores had nothing to sell. There wasn't enough food… . Lines formed whenever something, anything, was for sale. The fatigue of daily life was all over their faces. Now… fur-clad women confidently stride across the winter ice in stiletto heels. Stores have sales… upscale cafés cater to cosmopolitan clients, and magazine stands, once so strictly controlled, rival those in the West. … Life before was so drab. Now the city seems loaded with possibilities (Freeman 2008).

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