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Zaslavskaya, Olga

On reciprocity of samizdat phenomenon and East-West communication during Cold War

Traditional approach towards samizdat (self-publishing) determined by Cold War realities emphasized its political meaning and heroic deed. In fact, as it was shown in the latest publications, samizdat was a more complex cultural phenomenon. Once emerged samizdat underwent several transformations from incidental use of forbidden information to an independent cultural institution, “parallel culture”, and became a self-contained and singularly original sphere where societal spiritual, cultural and intellectual life was realized.
In its broader meaning the term samizdat describes different texts which cannot appear– for political, social or aesthetic reasons – within the formal cultural institutions (publishing houses, libraries, galleries, journals, etc). Samizdat phenomenon can be analyzed at least from three points of view: a) what texts and for what reasons could not appear in print or traditional mass media; b) what groups of authors and readers participated in the production and circulation of samizdat; c) how the situation of being published ‘underground’, out of mainstream cultural institutions and merely against official literature canons affected the genre structure, the poetic language, and the appearance of the texts.

This analysis can be based on two important, though not exhaustive, features of the text produced by underground culture: its unpublishedness and its selfdistribution. Both of them determined the logic of circulation and further distribution of the texts: through displacement and “snowballing” process samizdat was spread to various regions and countries and its bigger part ended up in different institutions abroad.  In early 1960s a range of manuscripts and documents made their way to the West from the Soviet Union: “by one way or another, samizdat escaped from the country to turn—somewhere out there—into tamizdat.”  Being “displaced” or “forced out” from the boundaries of the communist homeland samizdat found its way back through “enemy voices”, literary being broadcast by such ‘voices’ as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe among others. Such “media exchange” (texts vs broadcasts; texts vs texts) surrogated a communication between West and East for almost thirty years. It influenced, affected and shaped not only samizdat or radizdat as such but also the audiences exposed to this communication both in the Western and Eastern countries. 

The reciprocate character of such communication shows the manifold role of samizdat: through samizdat the certain type of information that otherwise was unavailable in West and/or  East was collected and disseminated. Second, it created several international networks beyond Iron Curtain.

Friday 30 Oct, 9.00-11.00 SESSION 4
Panel: Silenced Voices: Tamizdat, Samizdat and PEN