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From the Cult of Waste to the Trash Heap of History

The Politics of Waste in Socialist and Postsocialist Hungary

Zsuzsa Gille

Publication Year: 2007

Zsuzsa Gille combines social history, cultural analysis, and environmental sociology to advance a long overdue social theory of waste in this study of waste management, Hungarian state socialism, and post--Cold War capitalism. From 1948 to the end of the Soviet period, Hungary developed a cult of waste that valued reuse and recycling. With privatization the old environmentally beneficial, though not flawless, waste regime was eliminated, and dumping and waste incineration were again promoted. Gille's analysis focuses on the struggle between a Budapest-based chemical company and the small rural village that became its toxic dump site.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-x

This book has been in the making for a long time. I tried to do something that I had no model for, and therefore I am indebted to many people who not only found the development of a social theory of waste worthwhile but also encouraged me and lent their support in various forms over the years. I am first of all grateful to my mentors at UC Santa Cruz—Ronnie ...

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1. Was State Socialism Wasteful?

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pp. 1-10

Soon after I came to the United States in 1988 as a Hungarian

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2. Toward a Social Theory of Waste

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pp. 11-37

That socialism’s ‘‘demonstrated’’ wastefulness could turn into yet another ideological weapon demonstrating Western economic and moral superiority in the Cold War and in the postsocialist transition has much to do with the poverty of the scholarship on environmental issues in Eastern Europe. In fact, the question whether state socialism was wasteful was ...


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3. Metallic Socialism

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pp. 41-78

If by some miraculous time machine you could go back to the Hungary of the 1950s and walk around Budapest, you would keep bumping into dingy little shops with large orange signs proclaiming ‘‘MÉH,’’ which in Hungarian means ‘‘bee.’’ Yet if you decided to peek into one of these shops, you would not find bees or honey, but rather piles of dog-eared books, ...

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4. The Primitive Accumulation of Waste in Metallic Socialism

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pp. 79-101

By the early 1950s, there had evolved a pervasive cult of waste in Hungary. Enterprises registered, collected, and reused their own or other companies’ wastes. Workers, managers, cooperatives, women, and students were all enlisted in nationwide waste collection campaigns, and material conservation was hailed as a most noble characteristic of Homo Sovieticus. ...


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5. The Efficiency Model

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pp. 105-124

Starting in the mid-seventies, the concept of waste went through a radical transformation in Hungary. There were several factors that made the early state socialist concept outmoded: (1) the recognition of the unintended consequences of the early state socialist waste policies; (2) the economic reforms, which created a new discursive environment for waste issues; (3) the post-1956 K

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6. The Limits of Efficiency

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pp. 125-142

On Highway 58 going south from Pécs, Hungary’s fifth-largest city, until recently there was a large sign painted on a wall with the ditty: ‘‘Waste is not garbage, MÉH will take it and pay for it.’’1 Just about ten kilometers from this billboard oozes Hungary’s most notorious toxic waste dump, filled with the wastes of BCW that MÉH could not take and that the reform-inspired expenditure reduction programs could not diminish. ...


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7. The Chemical Model

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pp. 145-167

It was 1988, and I felt weird. Here I was, at my second demonstration against the construction of a dam on the riparian border of Hungary and Czechoslovakia,1 feeling righteous and, since I was surrounded by hundreds of others, quite strong as well. Yet, when I looked around, all I saw were women and children. As this was a women’s march, men were only ...

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8. ‘‘Building a Castle out of Shit’’: The Wastelands of the New Europe

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pp. 168-202

Somehow we never manage to make use of free monies. To wit, we would have received 66 billion Forints [about $300 million] from the [European] Union, of which we so far have managed to use 3.7 billion, that is, four percent of the funds. For example, we will throw six billion out the window by the end of the year if we don’t find locations for two regional waste dumps, one in northeastern Pest [County], and one on the northern shore of Lake ...

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9. Conclusion

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pp. 203-214

In the foregoing chapters I have presented a history of Hungary’s waste regimes from 1948 to the present. I have sliced this history along three dimensions—the production of waste, the representation of waste, and the politics of waste—and I have analyzed the limitations and contradictions of each waste regime—the metallic, the efficiency, and the chemical— through the BCW/Garé case study. Helping the reader in this review is a summary table (table 9.1). ...


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pp. 215-224

Sources and References

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pp. 225-245


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pp. 247-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780253116925
E-ISBN-10: 0253116929
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253348388

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos, 1 figures, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2007