Russian term
Translit samizdat
English self-publishing

Samizdat (Russian: ññ; Russian pronunciation: [sÉmÉzdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader, thus building a foundation for the successful resistance of the 1980s. This grassroots practice to evade officially-imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials. Vladimir Bukovsky defined it as follows: "I myself create it, edit it, censor it, publish it, distribute it, and get imprisoned for it."[1]


[edit] Techniques

Essentially, the samizdat copies of text, such as Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita or V¡clav Havel's writing The Power of the Powerless, were passed among friends. The techniques to reproduce the forbidden literature and periodicals varied from making several copies of the content using carbon paper, either by hand or on a typewriter, to printing on mainframe printers during night shifts, to printing the books on semi-professional printing presses in larger quantities. Before glasnost, the practice was dangerous, because copy machines, printing presses and even typewriters in offices were under control of the First Departments (KGB outposts): reference printouts for all of them were stored for identification purposes.

[edit] Terminology and related concepts

Etymologically, the word samizdat is made out of sam (Russian: ñ, –self, by oneself–) and izdat (Russian: ñ, abbr. ñ»ñññ, izdatel–stvo, –publishing house–), thus –self-published.– The Ukrainian term is samvdav (ñ), from sam, –self–, and vydannya, –publication.–[2]

The term was coined as a pun by Russian poet Nikolai Glazkov in the 1940s, who typed copies of his poems indicating Samsebyaizdat (¡ñññ, –Myself by Myself Publishers–) on the front page[3] by analogy with the typical names of publishing houses in the Soviet Union, such as Politizdat.

Magnitizdat is the passing on of taped sound recordings (magnit- referring to magnetic tape), often of underground music groups, bards, or lectures.

Tamizdat refers to literature published abroad (ñ, tam, –there–), often from smuggled manuscripts.

In the history of the Polish underground press, the usual term in the later years of Communism was drugi obieg or –second circulation– (of publications), with the implied first circulation being legal and censored publications. The term bibuÅa (–blotting paper–) is older, having been used even during the partitions of Poland.

[edit] History

Samizdat, a book published by Pathfinder Press containing a collection of forbidden Trotskyist Samizdat texts. In contrast to such catchy book covers, the cover page of a genuine samizdat publication was typically made to look as inconspicuous as possible in order to avoid attention.

Self-published and self-distributed literature has a long history, but samizdat is a unique phenomenon in the post-Stalin USSR and other countries with similar systems of tyranny. Under the grip of censorship of the police state, these societies used underground literature for self-analysis and self-expression.[4]

At the outset of the Khrushchev Thaw in the mid-1950s USSR, poetry became very popular and writings of a wide variety of known, prohibited, repressed, as well as young and unknown poets circulated among Soviet intelligentsia.

On June 29, 1958, a monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky was opened in the center of Moscow. The official ceremony ended with impromptu public poetry readings. The Moscovites liked the atmosphere of relatively free speech so much that the readings became regular and came to be known as "Mayak" (Russian: ñ, the lighthouse), with students being a majority of participants. However, it did not last long as the authorities began clamping down on the meetings. In the summer of 1961, several meeting regulars (among them Eduard Kuznetsov) were arrested and charged with "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" (Article 70 of the RSFSR Penal Code). Editor and publisher of Moscow samizdat magazine "¡ñññ" (Syntaxis) Alexander Ginzburg was arrested in 1960.

Some legitimate publications in the state-controlled media, such as a novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1970), first published in literary magazine Novy Mir in November 1962, were practically impossible to find in (and later taken out from) circulation and made their way into samizdat.

Not everything published in samizdat had political overtones. In 1963, Joseph Brodsky (to become a Nobel laureate in 1987) was charged with "social parasitism" and convicted for being nothing but a poet. In the mid-1960s, an underground literary group ¡ž ("¡ » žñññ ", Samoye Molodoye Obshchestvo Geniyev, translated as The Youngest Society of Geniuses; the acronym forms the Russian word for "[One] Could") issued their literary almanac "¡ñ„ññ" (Sfinksy; The Sphinxes) and collections of prose and poetry. Some of their writings were close to Russian avantgarde of the 1910s–1920s.

The 1965 show trial of writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky (Sinyavsky–Daniel trial, also charged with violating Article 70) and increased repressions marked the demise of the Thaw and harsher times for samizdat authors. The trial was carefully documented in The White Book by Yuri Galanskov and Alexander Ginzburg. Both writers were later arrested and sentenced to prison in what was known as The Trial of the Four. Some of the samizdat content became more politicized and played an important role in the dissident movement in the Soviet Union.

From 1964 to 1970, historian Roy Medvedev regularly published analytical materials that later appeared in the West under the title "»ñññ " (Politicheskiy Dnevnik; The Political Journal).

One of the longest-running and well-known samizdat publications was the information bulletin "ñ ññññ ñññ" (Khronika Tekushchikh Sobitiy; Chronicle of Current Events),[5] dedicated to the defense of human rights in the USSR. For 15 years from 1968 to 1983, a total of 63 issues were published. The anonymous authors encouraged the readers to utilize the same distribution channels in order to send feedback and local information to be published in the subsequent issues. The Chronicle was known for its dry concise style; its regular rubrics were "Arrests, Searches, Interrogations", "Out of Court Repressions", "In Prisons and Camps", "News of Samizdat", "Persecution of Religion", "Persecution of Crimean Tatars", "Repressions in Ukraine", "Lithuanian Events", and so on. The authors maintained that according to the Soviet Constitution, the Chronicle was not an illegal publication, but the long list of people arrested in relation to it included Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Yuri Shikhanovich, Pyotr Yakir, Victor Krasin, Sergei Kovalev, Alexander Lavut, Tatyana Velikanova, among others.

Another notable and long-running (about 20 issues in the period of 1972-1980) publication was the refusenik political and literary magazine "ñ ¡¡¡" (Yevrei v SSSR, Jews in the USSR), founded and edited by Alexander Voronel and after his release, by Mark Azbel and Alexander Luntz.

With increased proliferation of computer technologies, it became practically impossible for the government to control the copying and distribution of samizdat.

A well known samizdat comic character is the superheroine Octobriana.

In June 2009 issue of the Russian Life magazine Oleg Kashin describes an antisemitic trend in samizdat of late 1970s: "Russian party... was a very strange element of the political landscape of Brezhnev's era – feeling themselves practically dissidents, members of the Russian party with rare exceptions took quite prestigeous official positions in writers or journalists medium." [6]

[edit] Similar phenomena in other countries

Persian Samizdat edition of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses [1988] c. 2000

After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was exiled by the Shah of Iran in 1964, his sermons were smuggled into Iran on cassette tapes and widely copied, increasing his popularity and leading, in part, to the Iranian Revolution. After the Iranian Revolution led to the establishment of an Islamic state, the situation reversed. Works like Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses (1988) appeared inside the Religious Republic in illegal Samizdat editions.

A tradition of publishing handwritten material existed in the German military during both the First and Second World War.

Poland and Lithuania have a long history of underground press.

After Bell Labs changed its UNIX license to make dissemination of the source code illegal, the Lions Book had to be withdrawn, but the technical data it contained was of such enormous value that illegal copies of it circulated for years. The act of copying the Lions book was often referred to as Samizdat. See Lions' Commentary on UNIX 6th Edition, with Source Code for more information.

[edit] See also


[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ (Russian) "¡ñ: ñ ññññŽ, ñ ñññññŽ, ñ ññññññŽ, ñ ñŽ, ñ ññ¿ññññññŽ, ñ ñññŽ ." (autobiographical novel ñññññ ññ..., And the Wind returns... NY, ñ, 1978, p.126) Also online at [1]
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of Ukraine, s.v. Samvydav.
  3. ^ Samizdat, an article by Pavel Shekhtman in the Krugosvet encyclopedia
  4. ^ (Russian) History of Dissident Movement in the USSR. The birth of Samizdat by Ludmila Alekseyeva. Vilnius, 1992
  5. ^ (Russian) Chronicle of Current Events Archive at
  6. ^ "True dissident, but a Russian one", Oleg Kashin, Russian Life, June 2009

[edit] External links

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