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Youth and Popular Culture in Eastern Europe

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The consistencies linking youth and popular culture across the two sides of the Iron Curtain during the late socialist era are more striking than the differences. From fashion and lifestyle choices to musical taste, from sports enthusiasm to associational life, the basic elements of youth culture in Eastern Europe show a wide awareness of trends in the West, as well as an indigenous sense of what is 'cool' or 'hip.' Scouting organizations played a major role in young adult socialization, although the nature of such organized groups differed greatly from one socialist regime to another. In this module, students will be able to explore the options and pathways for a young adult growing up in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. We will see how large geopolitical events affected their interests and options, and also the effect of intergenerational tensions and solidarities.




  • Furst, J., & McLellan, J. (Eds.). (2017). Dropping Out of Socialism: The Creation of Alternative Spheres in the Soviet Bloc. Lexington Books.
  • Brauer, J. (2011). Clashes of Emotions: Punk Music, Youth Subculture, and Authority in the GDR (1978-1983). Social Justice, 38(4), 53.
  • Zubak, M. (n.d.). The Yugoslav youth press (1968-1980) : student movements, subcultures and communist alternative media (6th floor / CEU Thesis Collection PhD thesis). Budapest : Central European University, 2013.
  • Nikolayenko, O. (2013). Origins of the movement’s strategy: The case of the Serbian youth movement Otpor. International Political Science Review, 34(2), 140–158.
  • Vari, A. (2013). Nocturnal Entertainments, Five-Star Hotels, and Youth Counterculture: In C. M. Giustino & C. J. Plum (Eds.), Socialist Escapes (1st ed., pp. 187–210). Berghahn Books.
  • Bren, P. (n.d.). The greengrocer and his TV : the culture of communism after the 1968 Prague Spring (3rd floor / Sociology 306.4/09/437 BRE). Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2010.
  • Richter, P. (2015). Dance House Under the Socialist Regime in Hungary. Studia Musicologica, 56(4), 407–415.
  • Mitchell, T. (1992). Mixing Pop and Politics: Rock Music in Czechoslovakia Before and After the Velvet Revolution. Popular Music, 11(02), 187.
  • The Subcultures Network (Ed.). (2015). Fight Back: Punk, Politics and Resistance. Manchester University Press.
  • Mattson, K. (2001). Did Punk Matter? Analyzing the Practices of a Youth Subculture During the 1980s. American Studies, 42(1), 69–97.
  • Mazierska, E. (Ed.). (2016). Popular Music in Eastern Europe: Breaking the Cold War Paradigm. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Hayton, J. (2017). Ignoring Dictatorship? Punk Rock, Subculture, and Entanglement in the GDR. In Dropping out of socialism (pp. 207–232). Lexington Books.
  • Tucker, A. (2000). The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patočka to Havel. University of Pittsburgh Press.

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In-class or short-term assignments
1) What distinctions can we make between official groups and organizations designed for "students" and those for "youth." Do you see any correspondence in the labels younger people use for themselves? What are the most interesting-sounding student- or youth-groups you see, and which seem to be the most dull?

2) Draw a timeline of when jazz, rock, and punk music entered different East European countries, and when it was most popular. What sources from the registry can help illustrate this history?

3) How did fashion play a role in political expression for young people growing up in socialist-era Eastern Europe? Take as an example one item of clothing, or one iconic hairstyle, which took on a special meaning in relation to conformism or dissent? did that same look have a similar meaning in other parts of the globe? 
Offsite, longer-term assignments
Research topic: How much do you know about the history of late 1960s student movements and/or youth protest in your cultural context? Visit a local city or state archive that might have sources on this era, and see if you can find out about local actors, their methods of protest, and/or how the authorities reacted. What can you find out about what has happened to student/youth protesters since? Did they share a similar fate as their counterparts in Eastern Europe? What impact did their actions have on the the decades that followed, if any?


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