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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 The novel could not be published in the Soviet Union, and Pasternak was brutally vilified despite being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.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

SAMIZDAT.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Samizdat (literally "self-published"), a Russian neologism dating from the 1950s, refers to a large and diverse body of unofficial texts that circulated outside state-censored publishing monopolies in the Soviet Union after the Second World War and, by the 1970s, in the Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. Samizdat became the chief mode of communication within the so-called second or alternative cultures that developed in postwar socialist societies and served as a critical bridge between dissidents in those countries and the West.

Strict control over the printed word in the Soviet Union required that every work appear with the imprimatur of a state-owned publishing house such as the Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo (State publisher, Gosizdat for short) or Politicheskoe Izdatelstvo (Political publisher, or Politizdat). Possession of duplicating and printing machines was tightly regulated. In 1953, faced with the impossibility of getting his poems approved by state censors, the Moscow poet Nikolai Glazkov created a series of typed, hand-sewn volumes on the title pages of which there appeared the words "Moscow—1953—Samsebyaizdat." The ironic final term, roughly "by myself publisher," was later shortened to "samizdat," which soon became the byword for an entire textual counterworld. To be sure, the practice of copying and circulating subversive homemade texts goes back centuries—it may be as old as censorship itself. But samizdat achieved a historically unparalleled range and degree of influence. While the word itself was diligently kept out of Soviet dictionaries, by the 1970s it had entered the lexicon of virtually every European language.

Samizdat was above all a distinctive mode of textual reproduction in which networks of writers and readers copied and circulated unsanctioned works in the privacy of their apartments. The primitive tools it employed—typewriter and carbon paper—led one writer to describe it as a return to the pre-Gutenberg era. Using a stack of a dozen or more alternating sheets of carbon and onionskin paper, an author would type (firmly!) multiple copies of a given work, typically single-spaced with no margins so as to economize on paper. Individual copies would then be distributed to close friends, who might be obliged to return the favor by typing another set of copies (again using carbon paper) and distributing them to their friends, or to return the original with additional copies to the author for further distribution. As with a chain letter, time limits were often imposed on these activities, producing frenzied periods of round-the-clock reading and/or typing.

Much of the initial postwar samizdat consisted of poetry by outstanding early twentieth-century figures such as Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Marina Tsvetaeva. By the 1950s, however, circulating texts included much longer works of banned fiction by such writers as Andrei Platonov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, and Boris Pasternak, as well as translations into Russian of texts by Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, and other foreign authors. Following Stalin's death in 1953, during the period known as the "thaw" (1953–1968), the volume and variety of samizdat grew dramatically as more Soviet citizens looked to homemade texts to explore topics and styles banished from official media. These included religious life, labor and concentration camps, and artistic genres other than the officially sanctioned socialist realism. More works appeared that had never been published anywhere, such as the journal Sintaxis (1958–1960), Yevgenya Ginzburg's harrowing gulag memoirs Journey into the Whirlwind, and the transcript of the 1964 trial of the young Leningrad poet Joseph Brodsky. During the thaw, the circles of samizdat readers widened considerably, extending well beyond the main cities of Moscow and Leningrad. A typical samizdat text could find a readership of anywhere from several hundred to many thousands. In addition, a significant number of samizdat texts were smuggled out and published in the West (a technique later dubbed tamizdat, or "over-there publisher") or broadcast back to the Soviet Union via shortwave radio stations such as Radio Free Europe or the Voice of America (known as radizdat, or "radio publisher"). By the late 1960s Soviet samizdat had expanded to include the entire range of textual genres, from poetry and novels to petitions, historical documents, open letters, and periodicals. Among the latter were the Chronicle of Current Events, founded in 1968 as a kind of underground newsletter of the dissident movement as a whole (most issues included a bibliography of newly circulated samizdat works), as well as the Ukrainian Herald, the Zionist Herald of Exodus, the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church, and the Russian nationalist journal Assembly. Except for the official Communist Party line, nearly every ideological viewpoint found expression in samizdat, including neo-Marxist, neofascist, monarchist, liberal, nationalist, anti-Semitic, religious, and anarchist.

Although samizdat as such was not technically illegal in the Soviet Union unless its content could be shown to be "anti-Soviet," the police and security services worked mightily to suppress its distribution, seizing samizdat texts during apartment searches and arresting their owners. But repression failed to crush what one writer called the "self-contained and singularly original sphere for the realization of society's spiritual and intellectual life." Devastating indictments of Soviet history such as Roy Medvedev's Let History Judge and Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago sent shock waves across the Soviet Union and beyond. By the 1970s, in fact, the samizdat phenomenon had spread to the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe (as well as China). Underground editions of the works of émigré writers such as Czeslaw Milosz and Witold Gombrowicz appeared in Poland; in Czechoslovakia the writer Ludvík Vaculík edited hundreds of samizdat texts in the series Petlice (Padlock).

Eastern European samizdat, which also drew on traditions of underground publishing dating from the period of Nazi occupation, tended to employ more advanced techniques of reproduction such as mimeographs and photocopying. With educated publics less favorably disposed toward their socialist rulers than in Soviet Russia, samizdat in Eastern Europe quickly developed an enormous audience. In Czechoslovakia, the human rights group Charter 77 circulated dozens of samizdat essays and documents indicting the regime's treatment of its citizens. In Poland, the emergence in the late 1970s of popular resistance among practicing Catholics, students, and especially workers transformed samizdat into a genuinely mass phenomenon. The periodical Robotnik (The worker) reached a peak production of seventy thousand copies in August 1980; in its pages the unofficial trade union Solidarność (Solidarity) made its platform known to the Polish public, the Polish government, and the world.

Poland offers the strongest example of samizdat's vital contribution, on both a moral and practical level, to the dismantling of Soviet-style socialism in Europe. In the Soviet Union, where the range of sentiments expressed in samizdat was considerably wider and its propagation more limited, samizdat texts contributed only indirectly to socialism's collapse. But Soviet samizdat nonetheless established the terms for the turbulent public conversation that followed the collapse and that continues into the early twenty-first century.

Beyond its political relevance, samizdat represents a distinctive phenomenon in the modern history of print culture. While contemporaries often considered it the cultural analog to the so-called second economy (the underground black market within state-run socialist economies), samizdat was in fact a system for circulating (textual) products entirely outside the force field of market relations, a remarkable approximation of the socialist ideal of nonprofit-driven exchange. In this sense, perhaps, it suggests less the pre-Gutenberg era than that quintessentially modern mode of free textual exchange, the Internet.

See alsoAkhmatova, Anna; Charter 77; Dissidence; Havel, Václav; Mandelstam, Osip; Milosz, Czeslaw; Pasternak, Boris; Radio Free Europe; Solzhenitsyn, Alexander; Soviet Union; Totalitarianism; Tsvetaeva, Marina.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Eichwede, Wolfgang, ed. Samizdat: Alternative Kultur in Zentralund Osteuropa: Die 60er bis 80er Jahre. Bremen, Germany, 2000.

Feldbrugge, F. J. M. Samizdat and Political Dissent in the Soviet Union. Leiden, Netherlands, 1975.

Hopkins, Mark. Russia's Underground Press: The Chronicle of Current Events. New York, 1983.

Skilling, H. Gordon. Samizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe. London, 1989.

Benjamin Nathans

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