Articulating the free market

About the project

The period of the 1990s in the formerly communist countries of East-Central Europe has been studied from the point of view of economic, political, and social changes, but relatively little attention has been paid to culture, and cultural production in particular. Yet the radical changes that the economy underwent after the collapse of communism brought about not only new forms of political and social behaviours, they also affected the cultural sector, both on an institutional level and in terms of what could be represented. This project looks at the cultural responses to the systemic transformations in Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia after 1989 through the prism of films and television series.

The study brings together approaches from a variety of social science disciplines in order to question how cultural production represented these changes arising from the new economic conditions and acted as a significant contributor to public discourse. In what ways did structural changes enable and stimulate cultural producers to articulate the idea of the free market, as well as some of the negative social practices stemming from its at times imprudent implementation, in their own work? What role did the cultural production of the 1990s play in assimilating and interrogating the patterns of market capitalism? In what ways did filmmakers adopt the new language of the market to comment on the changes around them and how did they apply this language in their work?

The investigation looks at film and television series produced in the 1990s to uncover a wider regional dynamic, with case studies from the Polish, Czech, and Slovak contexts. This decade has often been remembered as a time of new-found freedom, but also excess. A number of producers of films and television series attempted to capture these new realities. Filmmakers, and television directors such as Władysław Pasikowski, Krzysztof Krause, Vít Olmer, Juraj Jakubisko, Věra Chytilová, Wojciech Wójcik and Jaroslav Hanuš tackled new social phenomena brought about by the sudden deregulation of the market and decline of the authoritarian structures of the state, including economic crime, prostitution, drug use, the development of mafia structures, etc, in their work.

This enquiry analyses the different strategies of portraying these topics in visual production and how these works interacted with economic ideas that circulated in the public sphere, in the broader context of the transformations of institutional structures in culture industries. It will thus trace how economic ideas and language informed the creative force of cultural producers’ conversations about the changing economic and political landscape during the systemic transformations.

Such a project is particularly topical, as within the countries in question, a discursive shift can be detected in recent years in which the reasons for particular contemporary political behaviours and practices are increasingly being traced to the 1990s and the mechanisms of market transformation. In other words, the critique of contemporary social problems and political failures is no longer explained by the authoritarian practices of pre-1989 communist regimes, but by the paths that the building of democracy and the market economy took in the 1990s.

The project is all the more timely as East-Central Europe emerges as a distinct region with the European Union in light of a number of ongoing European-wide crises. Countries of the former Eastern Bloc within the EU have demonstrated regional rather than pan-European allegiances, prompting an uncritical re-emergence of “post-communism” as a conceptual tool for explaining these developments, which calls for a new interrogation of the utility of this term.
The final project will thus offer several significant contributions: a reappraisal and new approach to the systemic transformations of the 1990s; the role that cultural production played in rendering economic change intelligible through its representation; and an investigation of how the circulation of economic ideas and language gave the transformations social coherence and validity.