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Samizdat and Tamizdat

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The practice of unofficial publication and distribution of countercultural materials during the Cold War was widespread in the Eastern bloc, but varied widely from country to country, and from period to period. The goal of this module is to allow students to explore different aspects of samizdat (underground) and tamizdat (émigré) publishing which allowed people living in Eastern Europe access to censored or inaccessible texts. Readings will introduce students to the major political and cultural milestones that caused activists to start to publish unofficially, and the complex social networks that formed in order to sustain this effort. The smuggling of unofficial texts across the Iron Curtain, as well as between satellite countries, also played a vital role in this communication system. Source materials from the COURAGE Registry will provide vivid examples of the variety of format, media, topic, and intended audience of underground publishing, and assignments will encourage students to explore these materials in more depth. 

Handbook

Video

Readings

Compulsory
  • Komaromi, A. (2004). The Material Existence of Soviet Samizdat. Slavic Review, 63(03), 597–618. https://doi.org/10.2307/1520346
  • Kind-Kovács, F. (2014). Written Here, Published There: How Underground Literature Crossed the Iron Curtain. Budapest - New York: Central European University Press.
  • Skilling, H. G. (1989). Samizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe. Springer.
  • Feldbrugge, F. J. M. (1975). Samizdat and political dissent in the Soviet Union /. Leyden : A. W. Sijthoff,.
  • Komaromi, A. (2008). Samizdat as Extra-Gutenberg Phenomenon. Poetics Today, 29(4), 629–667. https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-080
  • Kind-Kovács, F., & Labov, J. (Eds.). (2013). Samizdat, tamizdat, and beyond: transnational media during and after socialism. New York: Berghahn Books.
  • Brier, R. (Ed.). (2013). Entangled protest: transnational approaches to the history of dissent in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Osnabrück: Fibre.
  • Pollack, D., & Wielgohs, J. (Eds.). (2004). Dissent and Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe: Origins of Civil Society and Democratic Transition. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
  • Skilling, H. G. (1981). A Czech Awakening: Unofficial Publishing and Other Independent Cultural Activities. Index on Censorship, 10(5), 24–24. https://doi.org/10.1080/03064228108533258
  • Oushakine, S. A. (2001). The Terrifying Mimicry of Samizdat. Public Culture, 13(2), 191–214. Retrieved from https://proxy.library.upenn.edu:2646/article/26243
  • Bolton, J. (2012). Worlds of Dissent: Charter 77, the Plastic People of Theuniverse, and Czech Culture Under Communism. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Autio-Sarasmo, Sari, & Humphreys, Brendan. (2010). Winter kept us warm. Helsinki: Aleksanteri Institute.
Recommended

Featured Items from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Assignments

In-class or short-term assignments
1) Look through the featured items from the COURAGE Registry, and identify which ones are published underground within the Eastern bloc (samizdat), which ones were published in the West and smuggled across (tamizdat).

2) Which of these source materials were translated, from which language to which, and why?

3) Construct a timeline of the major events in samizdat publishing, and see where the featured items fit in. Are there any from much earlier or much later than expected?

4) Plot the featured items on a map of Eastern Europe, and make a note of where the text originated (perhaps in another language or format), and where it was read. What is the farthest that a single text has traveled?
Offsite, longer-term assignments

Visit a local archive that contains material about your neighborhood/town/city/county. What information can you find about local, self-published materials? Were there any small-circulation magazines, newspapers, or ‘zines that were locally produced? Who was their audience and what kind of subculture or association did they address? When did they cease publication and why?

Discussion

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