2017 | 115 |
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A ‘Great Change’, or, the Poles’ Unfulfilled Daydream about Having a Car (1956–7)

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The political ‘Thaw’ of 1956–7 was in Poland a period of thorough political as well as cultural and social change. While the political liberalisation came to an end rather soon, the team of Władysław Gomułka, the newly-appointed First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party [PZPR], in power since October 1956, cared much for maintaining and reinforcing their pro-social and reformatory image. The leadership team’s assent for a more sophisticated consumption, part of which was owning a car, helped alleviate social tensions. The models were drawn from the West of Europe and from the United States, which for the Polish society were the major points of reference, as well as from the other socialist countries – particularly, East Germany (the GDR) and Czechoslovakia, where the political and societal significance of motorisation had already been appreciated. On the other hand, offering private individuals an opportunity to purchase a car was meant to be a remarkable tool used to draw the ‘hot money’ down from the market, thus preventing inflation. Cars, imported or Polish-made, began being (relatively) freely traded, at very high prices. This did not limit the demand, as acquiescence for private business operations contributed to the growing of the group of affluent people. While this incited the citizens to develop their own strategies of acquiring cars – not infrequently colliding with the law; the authorities began gradually reinstating the rationing. All the same, the number of private cars quickly increased, to 58,600 as of 1958, up from some 24,750 in 1956. Public discussion started around popular low-capacity (small-engine) cars – whether licensed (Renault, Simca, Fiat) or (to be) made in Poland. However, in spite of the raised expectations the authorities decided that it was still too early for a mass motorisation: this was made possible only in the early 1970s.
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