Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Coca-Cola's brief political history

This year marks 125 years since John Pemberton invented carbonated soft drink – Coca-Cola – “cure for nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, gastric irritability, wasting diseases, constipation, headache, neurasthenia and impotence”. But Coca-Cola was not only a cure, it was also the source of headache and hysteria in the political waters.

The only Coca-Cola that was colorless was created after World War II - for political reasons. It was produced in limited quantities, by special order, for a Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov, who tried Coca-Cola during his negotiations about dividing Germany with the commander of allied forces in Europe, U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower. This Coca-Cola was packed in cylindrical bottles that had a red star as a label instead of Coca-Cola’s recognizable logo.

Zhukov really liked this drink, but since the relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to tighten, it was inconvenient for him to be seen with an American drink in his hands. That is why, on Zhukov’s request, and with the approval of U.S. President Harry Truman, Coca-Cola Company manufactured colorless Coke and packed it so that it looked like vodka. 

Last year, Coca-Cola Company celebrated its 100 birthday, and this year they will celebrate 125 years since John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola. 

In the beginning, Coca-Cola was advertised as “Delicious. Refreshing. Exhilarating. Invigorating” drink and also as a cure for nerve trouble, dyspepsia, mental and physical exhaustion, gastric irritability, wasting diseases, constipation, headache, neurasthenia and impotence. By often following U.S. foreign policy, rarely acting in conflict with American interests, and eventually becoming the symbol of globalization, in the past decades Coca-Cola was also and a source of headaches and hysteria in the (international) political waters.

During World War II, a special group of Coca-Cola employees called “Technical Observers” was among U.S. army soldiers. These Technical Observers supervised the shipment and operation of 64 complete bottling plants that distributed nearly 10 billion bottles of Coca-Cola to servicemen and women.

Military personnel who worked in Coca-Cola military plants became just as important as mechanics who worked on the maintenance of aircraft and tanks. And thanks to its popularity, along with lobbying in the army with the statement that this drink was a key product in the war, in 1942 Coca-Cola Company managed to get an exemption from sugar rationing.

A company that at all times sought to show how much symbolic power its drinks has on U.S. troops, also functioned and on the opposing side, in Germany, where before the war this drink was very popular. One of the Nazi statements was that “America never contributed anything to world civilization but chewing gum and Coca-Cola”.

Some publicists have stated that Coca-Cola Company had controversial relations with Germany, before and during World War II: during the war, Coca-Cola branches didn’t stopped working in Germany, but they weren’t able to import the necessary raw materials in the country. Publicist Mark Pendergrast wrote that several top executives from Coca-Cola branch in Germany were in fact members of the Nazi Party, and there are also records that this company sold millions of bottles to Hitler's Germany.

This obscure and not completely explored part of Coca-Cola history was not an obstacle for this product name to become linked not only to America but to key values of Western countries, such as "every kind of freedom, democracy and free market capitalist”, during the Cold War period. Parallel to that, Coca-Cola was expanding in the world, and the American political influence was strengthening. 

In the early fifties, those who were opposed to American influence marked Coca-Cola as an American cultural weapon.  In relation to this, in France was created a term “coca-colonization” - It was used by leftists who fought against opening of factories for bottling Coca-Cola drink. They even tried to prove that Coca-Cola is poisonous. The former president of the Coca-Cola Company, Robert Woodruff, stated that leftist’s hostility towards Coca-Cola comes from the fact that Coca-Cola is the very “essence of capitalism”.

Despite the logic of capitalism, and in the name of protecting the interests of U.S. foreign policy, until the nineties Coca-Cola was practically not present in the Eastern European market. The first opportunity for Coca Cola to install facilities in Russia, in mid-sixties, was not used because the only possible partner was a communist government (there were no private firms in Russia during that regime). For Coca-Cola, that probably wasn’t a problem, but it was for the U.S. government. In that period, U.S. Army was in war with Vietnam, and if Coca-Cola started working in Russia, they would have financed the communist side, American public enemy number one. 

To this day, connection between Coca-Cola and American values brings damage to the Coca-Cola Company in the Middle East.  There, in mid-sixties, Coca-Cola was accused of anti-Semitism and in the following decades it has become a symbol of "American occupying" and "anti-Muslim” policy. Some internet sites claim that Coca Cola, read from right to left, in Arabic language means "No Muhammad, no Mecca". Boycott of Coca-Cola is also elaborated with claims that by buying a bottle of Coca-Cola tenth of its price goes to the largest Arabian enemy, Israel.

In 1966, Coca Cola was accused of avoiding working in Israel, in order to protect sales of its products in the Arabian world. Things started to get complicated when, because of these accusations, Jewish organizations in America begun to boycott Coca-Cola. The company eventually allowed the construction of a bottling plant in Israel, in 1968, but that again caused boycott similar to that of Arabian League, which ended in the early eighties.

With that, Coca Cola found itself again on the course of U.S. foreign policy.  Respond to this was creation of authentic Arabian Colas such as Mecca Cola. Recently, the Iranian Minister of Industries, Ali Akbar Mehrabian, renewed the idea of boycotting Coca-Cola, because it is a "Zionist product.


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