The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

Duke University Press
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In The Left Side of History Kristen Ghodsee tells the stories of partisans fighting behind the lines in Nazi-allied Bulgaria during World War II: British officer Frank Thompson, brother of the great historian E.P. Thompson, and fourteen-year-old Elena Lagadinova, the youngest female member of the armed anti-fascist resistance. But these people were not merely anti-fascist; they were pro-communist, idealists moved by their socialist principles to fight and sometimes die for a cause they believed to be right. Victory brought forty years of communist dictatorship followed by unbridled capitalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today in democratic Eastern Europe there is ever-increasing despair, disenchantment with the post-communist present, and growing nostalgia for the communist past. These phenomena are difficult to understand in the West, where “communism” is a dirty word that is quickly equated with Stalin and Soviet labor camps. By starting with the stories of people like Thompson and Lagadinova, Ghodsee provides a more nuanced understanding of how communist ideals could inspire ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices.
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About the author

Kristen Ghodsee is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies at Bowdoin College and a former Guggenheim Fellow. She is the author of Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism, also published by Duke University Press.
 
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Apr 26, 2015
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9780822375821
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Eastern
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This compelling ethnography of women working in Bulgaria’s popular sea and ski resorts challenges the idea that women have consistently fared worse than men in Eastern Europe’s transition from socialism to a market economy. For decades western European tourists have flocked to Bulgaria’s beautiful beaches and mountains; tourism is today one of the few successful—and expanding—sectors of the country’s economy. Even at the highest levels of management, employment in the tourism industry has long been dominated by women. Kristen Ghodsee explains why this is and how women working in the industry have successfully negotiated their way through Bulgaria’s capitalist transformation while the fortunes of most of the population have plummeted. She highlights how, prior to 1989, the communist planners sought to create full employment for all at the same time that they steered women into the service sector. The women given jobs in tourism obtained higher educations, foreign language skills, and experiences working with Westerners, all of which positioned them to take advantage of the institutional changes eventually brought about by privatization.

Interspersed throughout The Red Riviera are vivid examinations of the lives of Bulgarian women, including a waitress, a tour operator, a chef, a maid, a receptionist, and a travel agent. Through these women’s stories, Ghodsee describes their employment prior to 1989 and after. She considers the postsocialist forces that have shaped the tourist industry over the past fifteen years: the emergence of a new democratic state, the small but increasing interest of foreign investors and transnational corporations, and the proliferation of ngos. Ghodsee suggests that many of the ngos, by insisting that Bulgarian women are necessarily disenfranchised, ignore their significant professional successes.

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