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Vagaries of consumerisms

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Vagaries of consumerisms

“Socialist society is actually per definitionem consumer society, because it has to meet the basic needs of the broad working masses and to ensure more of the achievements of material and spiritual culture.”1 This is how Stipe Šuvar, leading Yugoslav sociologist and politician was explaining the relationship between socialist and consumer society in 1970, twelve years since they were detected as inseparable pair for development of (happy) socialist society for the first time in the Program of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, accepted on the Seventh congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia held in Ljubljana in 1958. This program was the most important document articulating the directions of development of the Yugoslav socialist society on its road to becoming a communist society. This program defined that the main task of the socialist economic policy should be constant improvement of the material and cultural conditions of life and work of working people”2 It was noted that „only with a permanent increase in the production of material goods it is possible to ensure and steadily improve the living conditions of working people, which in turn is an essential element and requirement to encourage development of productive forces and increase in labour productivity.”3 and that increase of production would inevitably lead to better supply of consumers with goods. To put it in plain words. Not only did it become accepted to aspire to material possessions and consumer goods, but it became desired. This shift from austerity of postwar reconstruction and modernisation to modernisation through consuming was picked up fast by the popular culture and just six months after this program was defined, on the first Yugoslav broadcasting festival in Opatija the winning song Mala devojčica [Little Girl] sung by Ivo Robić and 13 year old Zdenka Vučković was an ode to consumerism.

“Daddy buy my a car, bicycle and scooter,
buy me bear and bunny, Yugovynil cart,
daddy buy me cookies, bombons and oranges two,
at least one small baby, and i am telling you that is all4

This de facto meant that the good proletarian, worker has to become a good consumer for the society to develop further and that worker needs to want more in order to work more. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

This shift toward consumerism was not sudden and the economic organisation of Yugoslavia was supporting it. Centred around the concept of withering away of the state,Yugoslav take on how state socialism should function, defined since the split with Soviet Union in 1948, was a mixture of planned and market economy with self-managed worker as the owner of the means of production and driving force of the system. The work day was divided into three parts: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work and eight hours of free time. It was believed that the more productive the leisure time was, the more productive the worker would be. As much as the organisation of economic system that supported this type of consumer driven socialism is interesting, what interests us more here is to see how this was manifested in space?

In numerous towns of ex Yugoslavia urbanisation came after the second world war. These towns, although developed on top of different urban matrix and urban histories, were given similar features during modernisation. Walk through the centre reveals the common thread that connects all the towns developed in this period. Three buildings placed on the main square or in its vicinity. House of culture, department store and hotel three points among which the socialist construction of everyday life and leisure time was happening.

After the initial phases of postwar reconstruction and construction of the basic infrastructure, mostly done by the voluntary work, for example half a million of youth voluntary workers participated in the construction of the Brotherhood and Unity highway), from second half of fifties it was time to build and infrastructure that would support creation and development of new socialist everyday life and culture. Construction of house of culture, department store and hotel, in this sequence in time, in the centre of the town became a driving force for this culture to appear, develop and to be contested.

Houses of culture came first. Beside disseminating the high culture, the main purpose of House of culture was to organise permanent education and to include all people not solely as consumers of culture but also the producers.

Yugoslavia was an economic miracle in the 1960s with growth rate much higher than most European countries. The increasing of production lead to drastic increase in the living standard and this brought about new shopping habits and consumerism. Department stores, although not unknown typology in Yugoslavia, started flourishing in the second half on 1960s when some of the most important chains (Beograd, Nišpromet, NAMA) were formed. The concept of department stores was not changed for the socialist Yugoslavia, in its core it was still democratization of luxury in a sense that even just admiring the goods on display indicated appreciation of modern society and that ability to browse, explore and dream of potential ownership was good stimuli for workers to increase their productivity, thus their position on the socialist ladder and their buying power. Department stores were playing the multiple roles, on the one side revealing that even in socialism there is inequality, but on the other, the place where changing position of women in a society was the most visible. Women were the main employees in the department stores and they were models how new woman should look and behave. Women were also the most present customers, as the number of women who were working and earning salaries independently from their spouses was increasing steadily.

In this sequence, hotels were created the last, as sort of the palaces for citizens, so everybody could enjoy their luxury. The hotels were the pride of each town, a way to show how prosperous the town and its area is. There was a social network to back up the existence of a hotel in any town, so no matter how small it was, it could provide for a support infrastructure for all sorts of cultural events, festivals, students excursions etc. Its service part (restaurant, swimming pool, discotheque was not just made for the guests but also for local people, as a sort of all-in-one package to provide the much-needed infrastructure to the towns. The local administration tended to make the hotels as grand as they could so they could provide more to its citizens. So if you wanted if you wanted to have bigger restaurants you had to have more rooms, to stay in a proportion between number of the rooms and size of the restaurant, and once you have a lot of rooms, swimming pool comes naturally. This is how Jagodina, a town of 80.000 people, ended up with a hotel featuring 350 beds.

These are just some of the aspects which will be addressed during this research. Furthermore, the processes surrounding decisions and policies of these objects, their relation to the urban environment in which they were constructed and the urban environment they provoked to appear around them, impact they had on the development of the towns and on their decline after the 1990s will be mapped through 8 case studies from different parts of Yugoslavia. On this cases the thesis of Boris Groys that ?ocialism was possible only with dreams about capitalism and free marketwill be tested and question what happens after emancipatory aspect of consumerism leave the town.

1Šuvar, Stipe, Sociološki presjek jugoslavenskog društva. Školska knjiga, Zagreb 1970. p 110-111. (as quoted in Duda, Igor, U potrazi za blagostanjem.Srednja Evropa, Zagreb 2005. p 59)

2-, Program Saveza komunista Jugoslavije. Prihvaćen na Sedmom kongresu Saveza komunista Jugoslavije (22-26. travnja 1958. u Ljubljani, GRO Joža Rožanković, Sisak 1984. p 190 (as quoted in Duda, Igor, U potrazi za blagostanjem.Srednja Evropa, Zagreb 2005. p 47)

3Ibid, p 185

4“Tata kupi mi auto, bicikl i romobil,
kupi mi medu i zeku, kolica Jugovinil,
tata kupi mi kolača, bombona i naranče dv?e,
bar jednu malenu bebu, i velim ti da je to sve”

lyrics by: Vandekar, performed by Zdenka Vuković i Ivo Robić, Opatija 1958







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