landscapes of communism

Fitz03_3715_01Sheila Fitzpatrick at The London Review of Books:

The saving grace of the Warsaw Palace, in Hatherley’s eyes, is that, in contrast to the Moscow Seven, it is a ‘social condenser’, a label borrowed from the Moscow avant-garde of the 1920s for public buildings offering citizens a range of activities (including, in the Warsaw case, a multiplex cinema, a swimming pool, a concert hall, museums complete with dinosaurs, an art gallery and cafés) and thus inculcating collective ideology. The pleasures of being socially condensed are left a bit vague, probably because Agata was not much exposed to them as a child, but there are some very likeable riffs about Polish ‘milk bars’ that appear to be public cafeterias (known in Russian as stolovye) where you line up for food and don’t tip. Hatherley and Agata particularly like the one in the Bratislava Trade Union Headquarters, where anyone who walks in can get an enormous three-course meal for about three euros. What Hatherley values, despite the absence of airs and graces, toilets and any encouragement to linger over your food, is ‘that sense of filling, slightly stodgy comfort which features so often in the memories of those who remember “real socialism”’. Perhaps that’s so in Eastern Europe, but I’m not sure it’s how Soviet citizens would remember stolovye. For Russians in late Soviet times, ‘filling, slightly stodgy comfort’ was to be found at home, not in the outside world. Homes, and, for that matter, dachas, are absent from Hatherley’s landscapes of communism. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, it was the ‘old apartment’ (the title of a long-running television programme of the 1990s) that was the focus of nostalgia for a lost ‘socialist’ world. Hatherley’s ‘Memorial’ chapter includes Berlin’s curious Museum of the GDR on the Spree, presenting consumer goods of the 1970s and 1980s in a spirit combining Ostalgie and condescension, but not the nostalgia-infused old apartment museums that sprang up in some Russian provincial towns.

more here.