Tuzex, short for Tuzemský export (or domestic export), was a set of special stores in Communist Czechoslovakia. The Communist Party established Tuzex in 1957, in order to draw hard currency from citizens' pockets into the coffers of the state. Hard currency, including American dollars and West German marks, was convertible currency linked to the international gold standard (unlike currencies in the East Bloc). The main source of hard currency in the East Bloc was relatives of Eastern Europeans who sent money to their families. Other sources included foreign tourists and wages earned abroad.
Tuzex stores carried varieties of luxury goods not available in regular stores. Western liquors, cigarettes, and clothing—especially blue jeans—were in-demand items; high-quality goods domestically produced (often for foreign export) were also available. Shopping in Tuzex was expensive due to exchanges one had to make. Initially Czechoslovaks had to use hard currency; later they could use regular Czechoslovak money, but only after purchasing Tuzex vouchers at a very high exchange rate. Special stores like Tuzex existed in other Eastern European countries, as well. In Poland there was Pewex, in Bulgaria Corecom, and in East Germany Intershop. They all existed to draw hard currency into the state budget.
Special stores increased Eastern European awareness of discrepancies between Eastern and Western everyday lives. They promoted the development of black markets, where hard currencies and Western goods were illegally exchanged. They also had an effect on the attitudes of ordinary Eastern Europeans regarding the official Marxist-Leninist ideology, which argued that communist-party leadership would result in the disappearance of class differences.
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Rudolf Zukal, "Tuzex," trans. Cathleen M. Giustino, Lidové noviny, March 1989, v.2, no. 3, 8.
Primary Source—Full Text
The crown's unrealistically established exchange rate, set in the currency reform of 1953, and the peculiarly fabricated internal price level, which has no connection to world developments, had the result that in practical terms the flood of hard currency stopped reaching private individuals. The high exchange rate of the crown raised the price of a stay for tourists to unaffordable levels. . . .
For this reason, alongside of a special supplementary charge for hard currency used in foreign travel, in 1957 Tuzex was established—a foreign-business enterprise selling retail goods. In Tuzex stores one pays with special vouchers or with convertible hard currency. Tuzex vouchers are exchanged for hard currency according to the official exchange rate. Prices at Tuzex are different than our internal prices. Similarly, the assortment of goods is substantially different. For the most part they come from imported goods or from domestic goods that are slated for export.
Tuzex has very negative sides politically, as well as economically. With the establishment of Tuzex we deepened the division of the population into different privileged groups respective to access to material property.
In capitalism [social] position is differentiated, above all, by wealth. In essence no other vantage point exists, for even family privilege was abandoned. There exists here, however, a narrow group among the highest party and state hierarchy, which has its so-called delivery service. This includes first-quality goods, assortments, and items not harmful to health and, in some cases, they are available even for special prices. They have their hotels, resorts, sanatoriums, hospitals, doctors, etc.
Here a second group has the possibility of shopping at Tuzex. These are the people with hard currency. Many of the goods on sale in Tuzex are completely unavailable on the domestic market. If an ordinary person wishes to buy something at Tuzex, they must obtain Tuzex vouchers. They do so through the black market and for prices set by artificial supply and demand. For the owners of Tuzex vouchers, this business is a source of unearned income.
We have a third group made of ordinary citizens, who are entirely dependent on the domestic market. Here, alongside the domestic market, there exists a parallel market [the black market] with other prices and means of payment, and whose reach is continually widening. It is a source of unearned income and emphatically demonstrates our divorce from price indices and the limits of our assortments of goods. . . .
With the backwardness of our technology in the world context there grew demand for quality machines, including radios, tape-recorders, televisions and, obviously, also computers and cars. With this growing demand, the exchange rate of Tuzex crowns increased. In 1988 Tuzex began to sell fifteen types of goods even for crowns, but with the exchange rate of one Tuzex crown for six domestic crowns. This was the lowest exchange rate for a Tuzex crown. The range of goods sold for crowns is supposed to continually grow, as are services at Tuzex.
Tuzex vividly shows the backwardness of our economy and it is no way to escape destitution. Analogous institutions exist in the other socialist countries. They have the goal of acquiring all available hard currency. It doesn't matter that these methods are in their nature anti-socialist, for they go against the main principle of "to each according to his deserts." The best worker, unless he works abroad, lacks the possibility of shopping at Tuzex, so for him this slogan is a mere phrase.
No less that 100 million dollars of pure profit at Tuzex in 1988 shows that money doesn't stink (especially hard currency) and that the end justifies the means. Even real-socialist morals and ideology respects and honors this.
In view of the situation in our economy, the closing of Tuzex is not on the horizon. On the contrary, its further growth is anticipated. We will not cook the chicken who lays the golden egg, even when all around itself it leaves filth and spreads a colony of parasites.