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Samizdat

SAMIZDAT

The term samizdat is most often translated as "selfpublishing." It refers to the clandestine practice in the Soviet Union of circulating manuscripts that were banned, had no chance of being published in normal channels, or were politically suspect. These were generally typescripts, mimeograph copies, or handwritten items.

The practice got its primary impetus in the mid to late 1950s, a period that in a socio-literary context is often referred to as The Thaw. This itself is linked to Nikita Khrushchev's campaign of de-Stalinization, which provided an opening for literary themes previously disallowed. The opening was frequently arbitrary as the case of Boris Pasternak's novel Dr. Zhivago proved in 1958. The novel could not be published in the Soviet Union, and Pasternak was brutally vilified despite being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

The fact that broad categories of literature and sociopolitical themes still could not be addressed moved much of this output underground into samizdat. Sometimes this mode of literary output was systematic as with later journals and chronicles. But much of this was done spontaneously on an individual basis. Of key importance is that samizdat is inextricably linked to what came to be the dissident movements in the Soviet Union. These, in turn, were linked with other groups seeking, in early manifestations, protection of human rights, greater religious freedom, and more ethnic autonomy. As Scammell notes (1984, p. 507), samizdat "had come into existence in the late fifties as a result of the clash between the intellectuals' post-Stalinist hunger for more freedom of expression and the continuing repressiveness of the censorship." Freedom of expression was one thing, but it was deadly to the state's perception of what could be allowed when the political admixture was included. The fact that samizdat and dissent were coeval is impossible to avoid and had great consequences for Soviet history.

From the early 1960s to the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1991, samizdat had an uneven history. There were periods of extreme repression, for instance in 19721973. But samizdat was not quelled. Very often, trials were benchmarks in the advancement of samizdat and its many causes. The February 1966 trial of two writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who had been publishing abroad for several years using pseudonyms, was a sensation since they were given seven and five years respectively at hard labor for allegedly writing anti-Soviet material. Their arrest led to public protests by dissidents. A number of them were then arrested, and this, in turn, led to further protests and corresponding arrests. Books and pamphlets with documents from these trials were frequently compiled and circulated widely in secret. These added much fuel to the fire, and a constant cycle was created. The Soviet government was also severely criticized worldwide because of a new policy of punishing dissident writers by confining them to mental hospitals.

Samizdat and dissent grew despite all impediments. It was a cultural opposition, an independent subculture, as Meerson-Aksenov (1977) called it, and it signified that social and political judgments stemming from sources other than the state were seen to be critically significant. In reality, the Soviet state was stymied by this phenomenon because it no longer knew quite how to handle it. The blanket executions of the 1930s were out of the question. The breadth of the criticism was also sometimes incomprehensible to the government. It could include everything from opposing the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to the latest broadsides against modern art.

The most famous of the systematic publications was The Chronicle of Current Events, which was issued without interruption from 1968 to 1972 and sporadically thereafter. Other notable publications included the Ukrainian Herad, the Chronicle of the Catholic Church of Lithuania, and historian Roy Medvedev's Political Diary (which ran from 1964 to 1971). This is by no means to minimize the huge number of individual contributions. Together they undercut the power and prestige of the Soviet state.

See also: censorship; dissident movement; gosizdat; journalism; sinyavsky-daniel trial

bibliography

Bukovsky, Vladimir. (1978). To Build a Castle. London: Deutsch; New York: Viking.

Meerson-Aksenov, Michael, and Shragin, Boris. (1977). The Political, Social and Religious Thought of Russian 'Samizdat'An Anthology, tr. Nickolas Lupinin. Belmont, MA: Nordland.

Reddaway, Peter, ed. and tr. (1972). Uncensored Russia: Protest and Dissent in the Soviet Union. New York: American Heritage.

Scammell, Michael. (1984). Solzhenitsyn: A Biography. New York: Norton.

Nickolas Lupinin

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samizdat

samizdat the clandestine copying and distribution of literature banned by the state, especially formerly in the communist countries of eastern Europe. Recorded from the 1960s, the word is Russian and means literally ‘self-publishing house’.

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"samizdat." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"samizdat." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/samizdat

samizdat

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