Magazine article New Internationalist

Selling Dreams: Consumer Culture Has Erupted in Eastern Europe

Magazine article New Internationalist

Selling Dreams: Consumer Culture Has Erupted in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

THE familiar logos of Western corporations are plastered everywhere along the streets of Budapest, Prague and other Central European cities.

Further east, in the Ukraine, billboards abound explaining the virtues of Sony, Honda, Pepsi and Coca - Cola and the joys of smoking Marlboro. Even in isolated villages the logos of multinationals are common. A recent drive through Miskole in north - east Hungary revealed a spanking new McDonald's, complete with an American - style 'drive thru' sales window.

We can get all kinds of Western goods and products,' says Romanian environmentalist Bogdan Paranici. According to business leaders and analysts the invasion of consumer values has barely started.

But even before the changes of 1989 people in the former Soviet bloc were desperate to get hold of Western consumer products. Their own ordinary household goods were both shoddy and in short supply.

For Eastern European environmentalists, who had played an important part in the regional revolutions, the prospects of Western corporate investment were both welcome and worrisome. Western technology was needed to clean up and modernize polluting factories. But environmentalists worried about an explosion of garbage, the last thing they needed in their pollution - ravaged countries.

When the wall came down in East Germany, the amount of garbage from packaging literally doubled overnight,' says Dan Swartz, a waste consultant living in Budapest. A 1993 forecast for the packaging industry in Eastern Europe predicted a growth rate three times higher than in Western Europe. Jean Louis Vuille, managing director of the Hungarian operations of the worldwide packaging giant Tetra Pak, says his company's joint venture is 'attempting to produce modern packaging to satisfy the needs of the consumer and to accompany our Hungarian partners on the road to the twenty - first century'.

Fine sentiments. But according to Swartz the first thing local municipalities now complain about is the mountains of garbage that are quickly piling up everywhere. Besides simple waste the profusion of consumer goods has created other problems. Big investments in car factories have begun to undermine existing energy efficient public transport systems. …

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