CREES Noon Lecture. “Bought and Sold: Living and Losing the Good Life in Socialist Yugoslavia.”
In Bought and Sold, Patrick Hyder Patterson reveals the unexpected ways in which socialist Yugoslavia embraced a culture of shopping, spending, acquiring, and enjoying—a consumerist lifestyle that made this communist country quite unlike its more restrained Soviet-bloc counterparts. Remarkable abundance translated into remarkable civic contentment, and there was hope that this unique reformist brand of socialism could, with time, offer a material Good Life to rival the capitalist West. But many Yugoslavs, both inside and outside the circles of official power, worried about the contradiction between the dictates of Marxist ideology and the population's enthusiasm for consumption. The result was a heated public debate over creeping consumerist values, with the new way of life finding fierce critics and, surprisingly for a communist country, many passionate, vocal, and very public defenders. Ultimately, the broadly shared consumer culture that prevailed during the 1960s and 1970s was a central factor in creating a genuinely pan-Yugoslav sense of belonging, a critical form of social glue that held the multiethnic society together. But with the economic downturn of the 1980s, the unsustainable reliance on ever-expanding abundance led to bitter disillusionment, stripping the unique Yugoslav model of its legitimacy, removing an essential source of cohesion, and priming the populace for mutual resentment, ethnic conflict, and war.
Patrick Hyder Patterson is associate professor of history at the University of California, San Diego. His research centers on the history of 20th-century Eastern Europe and the Balkans, with major emphases on everyday life and consumer culture and on the interplay of Islam, Christianity, and secular society. Recent projects have coupled a concern for Yugoslavia and the Balkans with a comparative consideration of Eastern Europe’s “northern tier,” drawing on sources from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the German Democratic Republic. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan, and recently published Bought and Sold: Living and Losing the Good Life in Socialist Yugoslavia (Cornell University Press, 2011).