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Samizdat (Russian: самиздат) is a term that originated in the 1950s Soviet Union (USSR) to describe:

  • an act of secretly writting, reproducing and disseminating underground literature which was usually prohibited by the communist regime, i.e. "self-publishing", in other words, publishing outside the auspices of the state-controlled publishing houses,[1]
  • a literature of such sort, i.e. "self-published" literature.

Etymologically, the term is a shortened version of a Russian word самоиздательство samoizdatel'stvo (literally "self-publishing house", thus meaning "self-publishing").[2] It mimics the names of Soviet publishing houses such as Politizdat[3]. In 1970s,[2] the use of term was wide-spread in the USSR as well as among members of dissident movement in many Eastern Bloc countries. Other similar terms include magnitizdat (reel-to-reel audiotape copies)[1] and tamizdat (literally "published over there", i.e. smuggled out, printed in the West, and smuggled back).[4]

Samizdat literature included works critical of practices of the communist government,[5] works written on state-banned topics (e.g. prison camps),[4] as well as previously legally published works that were no longer available in bookstores.[1] The majority of samizdat works were politically focused, consisting mostly of personal statements, information on arrests and trials, protests, and appeals.[6] A substantial proportion of samizdat circulating in the USSR, Poland, and Czechoslovakia was of a religious nature. As John Anderson, a professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews, points out:

"In the Soviet Union dissenting Baptists led the way with detailed accounts of religious trials and appeals for religious freedom. From the early 1960s onwards samizdat materials from such groups kept a records of their situation as Khruschev's anti-religious campaign led to the imprisonment of many who refused to ally with the officially recognised Baptist establishment. In subsequent years this records became increasingly detailed, with long verbatim records of trials, conversations with officials, accounts of the fate of young children taken from their parents, details of prison terms and details on several believers killed by the authorities. All this set an example to other religious groups, as a small number of Orthodox priests and activists entered the samizdat arena in the late 1960s, closely followed by the Catholics of Lithuania."[7]

The mere possession of samizdat materials could be considered as something dirty or subversive, and could split friends apart for fear of being ratted out to the police, or if one didn't rat out a friend, they too would be subject to arrest.

Samizdat underground media were instrumental in accelerating the collapse of the communist regimes in the Eastern bloc.[4] One of the most famous samizdat publications is The Gulag Archipelago, and its author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, has been eulogized as the Writer who destroyed an Empire.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 samizdat. In: Smorodinskaya, Tatiana; Evans-Romaine, Karen; Goscilo, Helena (Eds.). Encyclopedia of contemporary Russian culture. 1st ed. Oxon; New York, NY : Routledge, 2007. ISBN 978-0-415-32094-8, p. 543 (online version retrieved 2019-08-19)
  2. 2.0 2.1 samizdat. In: Králik, Ľubor. Stručný etymologický slovník slovenčiny [Concise Etymological Dictionary of Slovak Language]. 1st ed. Bratislava : VEDA, vydavateľstvo Slovenskej akadémie vied [SCIENCE, Publishing House of the Slovak Academy of Science], 2015. ISBN 978-80-224-1493-7, p. 520.
  3. The full name: Издательство политической литературы Центрального комитета Коммунистической партии Советского Союза Izdatel'stvo politícheskoj literatury Central'nogo komiteta Kommunisticheskoj partii Sovetskogo Sojuza ("Political Literature Publishing House of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union" or literally "Publishing House of Political Literature...")
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 samizdat underground media (Soviet bloc). In: Downing, John D. H. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of social movement media. Thousand Oaks, CA; London; New Delhi; Singapore : SAGE Publications, 2011. ISBN 978-0-7619-2688-7, p. 451 (online version retrieved 2019-08-19)
  5. Samizdat [online]. In Encyclopædia Britannica. [s. l.] : Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2014-12-31 (retrieved 2019-08-19)
  6. Joo, Hyung-min. Voices of Freedom: Samizdat. In: Europe-Asia Studies. ISSN 0966-8136, June 2004, Vol. 56, No. 4, pp. 572-574 (online version retrieved 2019-08-19)
  7. Anderson, John. Christianity and democratisation : From pious subjects to critical participants. Manchester; New York, NY : Manchester University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7190-7738-8, chpt. 3 ("The Catholic 'third wave': undermining authoritarianism") (online version retrieved 2019-08-19)

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