The purpose of this paper is to show how state socialist countries used soft power to improve their image in the West and advocate “the socialist way of life” in the context of the Cold War.
The author argues from a cultural history perspective that underlines transfers and entanglements among the two camps during the Cold War. The study is based on primary and secondary sources such as automotive periodicals and archival material from the German Bundesarchiv.
International fairs turned in the late 1950s into a new “battlefield” of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and its allies were celebrating at these meetings, important medial victories, laying the grounds for a state socialist consumer society. For the first time, Western audiences were realizing that irrespective of certain stylistic differences, consumer goods and particularly cars were not that different on the other side of the Iron Curtain. However, ideological bias and manufacturing flaws prevented them from being fully acknowledged by the Western side.
Cold War research mainly focused on bipolar confrontation and the high-level decision-making process. This study is part of a recent trend in historiography to reassess the history of the Cold War, focusing on the multi-layered interactions between the two camps. It also shows that consumption and material well-being were important topics for understanding the dynamics and the flow of ideas through the Iron Curtain.
I want to thank Andreas Becker, Dana Bentia, Rachel Trode, the two editors of the special issue, Mark Tadajewski and Inger Stole and the four anonymous reviewers for their useful comments and suggestions. I also want to thank Jane E. Lyle for providing much-needed language editing.
Gatejel, L. (2016), "On display in East and West: Socialist automobiles at international trade fairs during the Thaw", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 156-173. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHRM-03-2015-0011Download as .RIS
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