Medium 9780253009913

Politics in Color and Concrete

Views: 559
Ratings: (0)

Material culture in Eastern Europe under state socialism is remembered as uniformly gray, shabby, and monotonous—the worst of postwar modernist architecture and design. Politics in Color and Concrete revisits this history by exploring domestic space in Hungary from the 1950s through the 1990s and reconstructs the multi-textured and politicized aesthetics of daily life through the objects, spaces, and colors that made up this lived environment. Krisztina Féherváry shows that contemporary standards of living and ideas about normalcy have roots in late socialist consumer culture and are not merely products of postsocialist transitions or neoliberalism. This engaging study decenters conventional perspectives on consumer capitalism, home ownership, and citizenship in the new Europe.

List price: $34.99

Your Price: $27.99

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

8 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1 - Normal Life in the Former Socialist City

ePub

In the mid-1990s in Dunaújváros, half a decade after the fall of state socialism, long lines once again formed in front of shops, but now for lottery tickets. An editorial on the front page of the local newspaper attempted to articulate the sentiments of the people standing in these lines, people still living in concrete apartment blocks, whose standard of living had declined rather than improved in the tumultuous years since the incursion of market capitalism.

Most people know…that unfortunately in this world it takes a lot of money for a full life. If you want to update your library, travel, see the world; if you want to have a livable home, drive a normal car, and occasionally have a respectable dinner—for these you need a small fortune. (Dunaújvárosi Hírlap, June 3, 1997)

Throughout my fieldwork, people used terms like “livable,” “normal,” and “respectable” to refer to services, goods, and material worlds that met their expectations of life after the end of state socialism. New telephone systems, automatic teller machines, twenty-four-hour convenience stores, and courteous sales clerks were amenities that many Hungarians associated with the dignity accorded respectable citizens of a “First World.” In contrast, they understood obsolete technologies and infrastructures, corruption and rude behavior, and the frantic pace of everyday life to be vestiges of a discredited socialist system. Scholars have reported similar uses of “normal” throughout central Eastern Europe and the Baltics during this period, as people used it to refer to things that were clearly extraordinary in their local context, but were imagined to be part of average lifestyles in Western Europe or the United States.

 

2 - Socialist Realism in the Socialist City

ePub

IN APRIL 1950, workers began clearing land on an orchard-covered plateau overlooking the Danube River some sixty kilometers south of Budapest. Curious villagers from the nearby settlement of Dunapentele learned that the workers were building barracks for a new steel mill. They were soon to discover that the site had also been selected for the massive project of building Hungary's first socialist “new town.” The factory was to provide steel for an anticipated war with the West, but the new town, named Sztálinváros, or City of Stalin, was to model the socialist utopian society to come. Like other new towns being built throughout the Soviet bloc, it was intended to demonstrate the ability of a Communist Party–led, centrally planned, socioeconomic system to effect a wholesale transformation of society and to usher in an alternative modernity, one that avoided the misery of capitalist urbanization and industrialization.1

In contrast to the disorder of the existing industrial cities and backward villages, this new town was to feature a modern division of labor in which each member of a literate citizenry contributed to the working of the whole. Publicity campaigns promised a “good life” for the entire population, a life epitomized in modern urban living with central heat and indoor plumbing—comforts that were still rare in the countryside. The rational organization of labor would ensure that residents and workers in the new town could purchase rather than produce the goods they needed and enjoy the novelty of leisure time to be spent in cultivating the self.

 

3 - Socialist Modern and the Production of Demanding Citizens

ePub

IN 1963, THE Dunaújváros newspaper published a particularly strident article on home décor, part of a nationwide campaign to convince residents moving into new apartments to rid themselves of their old, heavy furniture and adopt more appropriate tastes for their new surroundings. The author begins with “What there should not be!” She denounces the complete bedroom set, the permanent dining room, the display cabinet, and the “monstrous wardrobe” (Bars 1963). In the “apartment of today,” she proclaims, “furnishings cannot be monofunctional display items but must be useful objects.” They cannot have “useless decorations, carved angels, and twirled columns…. The fashion is clean lines, low sizes…easy to use and clean.” To create the all-important open room plan, “furniture is placed against the wall so that the center is left free…allowing space for movement, work, comfort, hominess.” One multifunctional room, the writer insists, will “better suit the family's time together and the working person's needs,” as long as the residents “avoid all that is superficial.” She concludes by assuring readers that “lighter, brighter forms and colors will satisfy the modern person's demands (igény) for a home.”

 

4 - Socialist Generic and the Branding of State Socialism

ePub

IN THE 1960s, economic reforms injected color, diversity, and forms of abundance into a commercial sphere that had been relatively sparse in the 1950s. The Kádár regime placed new emphasis on quality of life, including the provision of more consumer goods, leisure activities, and forms of entertainment. The department store Luxus opened in Budapest and catered to the segment of the population that wanted and could afford the higher quality and more expensive clothing it offered. At the same time, a chain of new self-service stores appeared, playfully called “ABC” (standing for all the letters in the alphabet) that offered consumers a wide variety of things under one roof and allowed them to access goods without going through a salesclerk. The first state-run warehouse for new furniture opened in Budapest in 1974, called Domus after the Italian design academy (Vadas 1992:183) and in 1976 a new department store chain called Skála opened its glass-clad flagship store in Budapest to great fanfare. The Skála was different from existing department stores in that its wares were supplied by new and more independent cooperative workshops (szövetkezet), making for more diverse offerings than previously possible through central planning channels. The Dunaújváros branch of the Skála was housed in a large, windowless set of cubes in a sienna orange. State-sponsored commercial media expanded, including the use of neon signs and television advertising; so did apolitical print media, such as magazines for car aficionados, fisherman, and photographers, as well as for cooking and women's fashion.

 

5 - Organicist Modern and Super-Natural Organicism

ePub

THE IDEAL OF modern, urban apartment living was, almost from the start, complemented by ownership of a summer cottage (nyaraló) or weekend getaway (hétvégi ház), sometimes called a víkend ház.1 In the early 1960s, the state amended the “one-family, one-house” rule to allow additional ownership of a small, unheated cottage on a plot of land. Such cottages could not be used as a permanent home address and, unlike the primary residence, were subject to a small property tax. Members of Dunaújváros's professional class acquired tiny summer cottages by Lake Balaton or little weekend houses near the Danube, where Budapest's gentry used to have summer villas. Some had plumbing, others only an outhouse. Many working-class city dwellers bought vegetable plots further from the river as a source of extra cash or to supplement their household diets. These “hobby gardens” (hobbi kert) might have a tiny cottage on them, but just as often they had only a toolshed and some cooking utensils.

 

6 - Unstable Landscapes of Property, Morality, and Status

ePub

EARLY IN THIS book, I recounted an incident in which a university student from Dunaújváros nodded out the window of our bus at a silver car speeding by and remarked, “If everyone had a car like that, that would be normal!” In one breath, this young man summed up a complex mixture of expectation and disappointment. As with widespread invocations of a counterfactual “normal” in Hungary, he expressed the socialist middle strata's frustrated expectations for the kind of life they had assumed would be ushered in by democracy and a free market. Simultaneously, he delineated places and kinds of behavior in Hungary that conformed to such expectations. His insistence that “everyone” was entitled to a car like that also highlighted the fact that most people were still sitting on the bus. At the same time, these people could see that others—often inexplicably—enjoyed not only “normal” material goods and environments but far more lavish ones. Just as disturbing was the emergence of a visible homeless population as well as the regular sight of impoverished pensioners selling small, straggly bouquets of daisies on street corners.

 

7 - The New Family House and the New Middle Class

ePub

In Dunaújváros, the old village sector of Pentele, once run down and neglected, quickly became one of the most prestigious places in town to live. With its newly paved or cobbled streets, renovated Catholic church and manor house, and recently opened private bakery, it was the only part of town that could be transformed into a piece of (presocialist) historic Hungary. The city's emerging elites had the connections and finances to buy scarce land here or in the gentrifying Garden City district on which to build their new, eye-catching houses. The breathtaking material difference of these houses from the gray, concrete buildings making up the socialist norm in town aligned them with illegitimate wealth rather than with respectable middle-class status (Plate 7a).

But there was another controversial transformation to the landscape around the new town, one that was emerging throughout the country: small but growing neighborhoods of new, detached family houses on the outskirts of nearby villages (Figures 7.1, 7.3, 7.5, and 7.6). Often painted bright white or in the “ice cream colors” (fagylalt színű) of lemon yellow, apricot, raspberry, pistachio green, and chocolate brown, they also stood out, but here against a rural backdrop of un-painted or soot-stained houses with faded gray and brown roofs. Newly available construction materials, technologies, and labor contributed to their distinctive appearance.1 Unsurprisingly, the eclectic architectural designs of new houses in Hungary in the 1990s, to varying degrees, were material condemnations of the straight-line and the rectilinear form. In subtle or dramatic fashion, these new houses incorporated organic, rounded, and often playful forms into their façades, including undulating roofs, convex mirrored glass, round columns, and arched windows. They also made prominent use of “natural” materials, such as wood, stone, and even reed thatch (Plates 8a and 8b). But these houses also marked their difference from their rural peasant or working-class neighbors through the material forms of the house and the new, leisure lifestyles they represented. Their cultivated lawns, gazebos, and rock gardens made them anathema to the rural peasantry, for whom the multiuse garage, productive garden, or livestock pen indexed a work ethic essential for respectability (Lampland 1995:316–23), but also to an older generation of city dwellers with weekend gardens, who were driven to tend, pick, and preserve whatever grew on their plots.

 

8 - Heterotopias of the Normal in Private Worlds

ePub

IN 1997, I met a local journalist who wrote for the steel mill newspaper. When I explained my research to her, she immediately understood it to be about the relationship between one's living space and one's sense of self in the world. She referred me to an article she had written on a new local handyman business that specialized in refurbishing panel apartments. I reproduce the first part of it here, as it gives articulate form to narratives and expressions in regular circulation during the late 1990s in Dunaújváros, a narrative that will feel familiar to the reader of this book. It is a narrative of recent history and of the expectations for and disappointments in the system change. It is also a narrative about the resilience of the idea that transformations to one's home can produce transcendent transformations to one's life. And finally, it is a narrative that hints more broadly at the emerging relationship between one's private home life and the wider sociopolitical and economic order. The title of the article? “My home, my castle!” (Kozma 1995).

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000031754
Isbn
9780253009968
File size
4.01 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata