In step with the times

June 26th, 2011

As was reported during the week, the Monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia, Bulgaria, was given a pop-art makeover last week. The heroic proletarian soldiers of the postwar sculpture were reimagined as comic-book superheroes, and the punchline “в крак с времето” (Russian for “in step with the times”) was added to the plinth.

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

The tone of coverage of the story by different media outlets is revealing. RIA Novosti, the Russian media portal, had this lede:

Bulgarian policemen are looking for a vandal who defiled a monument to the Soviet Army in Sofia on Saturday night.

Whereas the Guardian (UK) had a different tack:

There was Superman in red leather boots, Ronald McDonald clutching a bottle of beer, and Santa Claus about to look through a pair of binoculars.

Historical raw nerve touched, it would appear.

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Reimagined Red Army, Sofia

Pictures from Budapest Avant-Garde.

Things: ‘Dinosaurs Who Are Communist For Some Reason’ t-shirt

June 19th, 2011

‘Dinosaurs Who Are Communist For Some Reason’ t-shirt, by MJ:

“What killed the dinosaurs? Capitalism. Only through a keen understanding of the theory and praxis of class struggle can any species hope to break the free market’s brutal cycle of boom and extinction.”

Dinosaurs Who Are Communist For Some Reason

1950s matchbox cover designs, Poland

June 12th, 2011

A selection of Polish matchbox designs of the 1950s and early 1960s, originally put online by Jane McDevitt of Maraid Design (her Flickr set of matchbox designs has more from around the world).

Matchboxes were used in communist Poland (and elsewhere in the eastern bloc) as a cheap method of disseminating information — sometimes commercial, sometimes propagandistic, sometimes just practical.

1950s Polish matchbox - "A radio in every home - battery-powered Barbara radios"

“A radio in every home – battery-powered Barbara radios”

1950s Polish matchbox - "The Sixth Soviet Film Festival - A Roundup of the World's Leading Cinematography"

“The Sixth Soviet Film Festival – A Roundup of the World’s Leading Cinematography”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Reduce water use - in industry and the home"

“Reduce water use – in industry and the home”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Emulsion paint from Chemifarb Gliwice"

“Emulsion paint from Chemifarb Gliwice”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Children + Matches = Fire"

“Children + Matches = Fire”

1950s Polish matchbox - "10 Years of the People's Republic of Poland"

“10 Years of the People’s Republic of Poland”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Death favours careless people"

“Death favours careless people”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Hospital. Prison."

“Hospital. Prison.” (An anti-drink-driving campaign)

1950s Polish matchbox - "Obey the laws on right-of-way"

“Obey the laws on right-of-way”

1950s Polish matchbox - "Get to know the road signs"

“Get to know the road signs”


June 5th, 2011

Germany has a strong socialist and social-democratic heritage and tradition. The main German social-democratic party, the SPD, is one of the oldest in the world, and its history mirrors much of the grim history of Europe in the twentieth century. East Germany, after its foundation in 1949, was built in part on a doublethink of simultaneously recognising and denying this heritage of preexisting worker’s movements.

One of the familiar tactics of the GDR’s ruling party, the SED (itself a product of a forced marriage between the east german communist and social-democratic parties) was to assume control of existing worker’s institutions and other popular social institutions and transform them into loyal stalinist organisations. This happened to trade unions, professional organisations, church-related groups, youth organisations and more, but one of the most obvious places where this change took place — obvious because of the very nature of the institutions being transformed — was with newspapers. Overnight, previously social-democratic media became party mouthpieces, giving the official line and standing loyally by the SED leadership.

Volksstimme is one example of this phenomenon. This paper, founded in 1890 in Magdeburg, was social-democratic in outlook and became the main daily newspaper of the Saxony-Anhalt region in the early twentieth century. After being banned by the Nazis in 1933, it did not publish again until 1947, when it emerged as a proxy of the SED. Their front page from December 1st, 1979, looked like this:


The status of the paper as the voice of officialdom is captured in the masthead’s perfunctory slogan, “Organ der Bezirksleitung Magdeburg der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands” — “Organ of the Magdeburg leadership of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany”. It seems to have been a pretty dreary read, as many eastern-bloc papers of the era were. However, historical hindsight sheds some light on some of the editorial choices.

It leads on a story about George McGovern, the US senator regarded — then and now — as a left-liberal democrat, objecting to the stationing of NATO missiles in western Europe. At the dawn of the Reagan era, this seems to have been an attempt by the Volksstimme editors to praise their enemy’s enemies.

The other stories range from similarly ‘ideological’ stories (‘Meeting of the Supreme Soviet ends’, ‘Communist delegation from the Netherlands’) to more mundane fare (‘Japanese rail-speed record of 304 km/h’).

Volksstimme went through another fundamental change of direction after the Wende, when it was bought by the Bauer Media Group and relaunched as a mid-market regional tabloid. It still exists today as one of Saxony-Anhalt’s main regional papers (with numerous local editions) and if you feel like it, you can talk to their staff on Twitter right now.