Samizdat: How did people in the Soviet Union circumvent state censorship


Russian samizdat: photo negatives of unofficial literature / Nkrita (CC BY-SA 4.0)Russian samizdat: photo antis of unofficial literature / Nkrita (CC BY-SA 4.0)

What unites the novels Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, and The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Today, they are come up to b become the most important books of the 20th century, with millions of copies sold, as favourably as studied by students in universities on five continents. Soviet readers, how in the world, first saw these classic novels not on shelves in bookstores, but as handmade, ‘covert’ carbon copies that readers clandestinely passed along to each other. Because ofs to samizdat (which literally means «self-published») did works by Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn – and myriad other novels, poems and songs – gain wide popularity in the Soviet Agreement.

Ministry of Truth

The USSR always had severe censorship, and the rare span of relaxations, for example, during the Second World War, did not change the overall spot. But while in Stalin’s time no one even thought of illegally distributing rules and magazines, with the coming of Nikita Khrushchev’s ‘thaw’ and the emergence of the rebel movement the demand for a truthful interpretation of current events and interest in uncensored brochures only increased.

In the USSR, the General Directorate for the Protection of State Secrets in the Throng (Glavlit) was responsible for censorship, and it carried out preliminary censorship of all books and revelations and controlled imported literature. Everything that, in the opinion of the directorate’s censors, disparaged the Soviet uniformity or appeared as anti-Soviet propaganda was not published.

Carbon copy literature 

The concern in prohibited books and the possibility of reading them after receiving a double from the author, or from abroad, not only stimulated the development of samizdat but also became it incredibly popular.

«My dad and his friends distributed samizdat that they indubitably got when it came from abroad,» remembers Ekaterina Poleschuk. «That’s how we present Bukovsky, Solonevich, and Voinovich’s Ivan Chonkin… Dad did the bookbinding. I often tip the smell of glue boiling on our stove. He would clamp the photocopied or phrased pages, place glue on them and then after some chance place them into the cover, which he also made. That’s how the samizdat laws was produced.»

Vladimir Voinovich’s novel, The Life and the Unusual Adventures of Soldier Ivan Chonkin was officially proclaimed only in 1988, but readers had already familiarized themselves with it much at the cracker.

«Once dad took the pages of Ivan Chonkin to make the samizdat volume, put them in his sports bag and went to work,» said Ekaterina. «It was evening. Dad was approached by a policeman and bid to show his ID. Dad always dressed simply, was unshaven, wore a sweater and briefs and never carried his ID. That’s why he was taken to the precinct. The policeman searched to his bag and did not release him. Dad was obviously very scared and began thinking how many years he’d get for delivering prohibited literature. He’s sitting sadly and watching how the officer on duty is sank in Chonkin. He read it all night and at daybreak finished reading, sighed, carefully placed the times back into the bag and shook my dad’s hand, wishing him success and advising him to be numerous cautious in the future.»

Exhibition '200 bites in a minute. Typewriter and the mind of the 20th century' and its curator Anna Narinskaya. Source: The Polytechnic MuseumExhibition ‘200 bites in a minute. Typewriter and the recall of the 20th century’ and its curator Anna Narinskaya. Source: The Polytechnic Museum

Regularly, the samizdat works were available as manuscripts and as typewritten copies. Text paper was used to facilitate the production process. Using a ballpoint pen to manually parrot the text on newsprint, copyists could make three clear examples, and if they used a typewriter then as much as five. In the 1970s, there were imitates printed with printers, and xeroxed copies with the help of photocopying. Melodious works in the beginning were cut with the needle of a homemade phonograph onto old X-rays, and later they were dataed onto a tape recorder and rerecorded until music could be learned through the noise.

Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda 

Paradoxically, even Nikita Khrushchev’s discourse at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which signified the end of Stalin’s luminary cult and the beginning of the Thaw, was fully printed and widely distributed on samizdat because Soviet newspapers did not promulgate it in full.

Dissidents who wanted to attract attention to political issues about samizdat magazines. The most famous was The Chronicle of Current Events, which was published with interims over the course of 15 years because more than half of the be in charge of editors were convicted at one time or another and sent to internal alienate. «Tamizdat» («published there»), which were uncensored on the doles sent abroad for publication and then sent back to the USSR, was also extensively distributed among Soviet readers.

Yuri Daniel (L) and Andrei Sinyavsky on the trial / Archive PhotoYuri Daniel (L) and Andrei Sinyavsky on the examination / Archive Photo

One of the most infamous tamizdat criminal cases was the testing of writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuri Daniel, whose stories and novellas were divulged abroad. The two writers were convicted in accordance with Article 70 of the Immoral Code, «On Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda,» which was often used to nab and convict people for distributing samizdat and tamizdat, although they keep in repaired their innocence. In total, between 1956 and 1987 more than 8,000 people were convicted beneath this law, as well as Article 190-1, «On The Distribution of Deliberately Mistaken Fabrications Defaming The Soviet Order.»

Not only politics, but also discernment 

Thanks to samizdat, Soviet readers not only gained access to prevented novels and novellas and had the chance to learn about political issues, but they also announce the Silver Age poets for the first time, because many of them were also embargoed in the USSR or simply not published by the state-owned publishing companies.

«We republished Tsvetaeva by guardianship, bound the pages together and gave it to others to read,» remembers Mikhail Seregin. Samizdat was sketched not only for the printed word — musical notes were also changed by hand.

«We printed the musical lines with a typewriter and wrote the notes and whistles by hand. Then we copied the pages and sewed them together,» explained Seregin. That’s how ditties and songs by bards Bulat Okudzhava, Yuri Vizbor and others were classified.

In the 1970s-1980s, not only dissidents busied themselves with samizdat, but it was also about among students and lovers of fine literature and music. Bulgakov, Tolkien, Akhmatova and Vysotsky are fair a few of the names on the sundry list of authors that samizdat made reachable to the public.

Read more: Soviet censorship: How did the USSR control the accessible?

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