Samizdat – the production and circulation of texts outside the official channels – was a distinctive phenomenon of late Soviet culture. Samizdat provided an alternative repertoire of reading materials: literary and other texts written by nonconformist intellectuals, contemporary texts that had been censored, rare pre-revolutionary texts, and Western texts in translation. The ‘dissident’ intellectuals and ‘underground’ writers who shaped the climate of the late Soviet era worked within the parameters of Soviet culture, emulating the official cult of the written word; yet they undermined these parameters by writing and reading the wrong texts.
The dissenters were not just prolific writers, but first and foremost voracious readers. Much has been published about the texts they wrote, but comparatively little research has been devoted to the texts they read, and on how these texts shaped their worldview, political opinion, religious vision and literary aesthetics.
In our quest to find out what dissenters were reading, why they were reading what they were reading, and how their reading was reflected in their own texts, we depend on the samizdat journals themselves as primary sources. Samizdat journals are an endangered species: the journals are highly perishable, with minuscule print-runs of barely legible editions on friable high-acid paper. To date, the remaining exemplars are scattered throughout Russian and foreign archives, and this presents considerable difficulties to researchers who need to access a full set. Preserving these unique sources is thus our second priority.
Links and Sources
Memorial owns one of the largest archival collections of samizdat and is committed to widening access to its holdings. As part of this project, sections of the citation index that was compiled during the preparation of an online scholarly edition of the Chronicle of Current Events and contains more than 21,000 entries will be made accessible online.
- Memorial homepage
- History of the Chronicle of Current Events
- Working version of the Chronicle online
- The History of Dissent in the USSR
We collaborate with the University of Toronto, Canada, host of the first major English-language database with information on samizdat periodicals, compiled by Ann Komaromi. Our project will help make a full-text version of the journal 37 available to researchers.