The voices from undeground. Samizdats in the former Czechoslovakia

During the communism period in Czechoslovakia the press faced in many ways censorship and was as in other countries of the former Soviet Union part of a whole system of controlling the communication. As stated by Downing: “The leading reason for the significance of the radical media in this case is that Soviety system particularly relied on its channeling and strict control of communication and media, its use of them as a transmission belt for the party´s view of reality” (Downing, 2000:355). Some of the civil activists however decided to produce an “underground press” instead, called samizdat to circumvent the censorship. Samizdat is a word that comes from Russian language and refers to underground publications either written by hand or typewriter distributed from hand to hand and produced only in limited prints. Mostly the activity of samizdat press was done by civil society, those who produced this kind of press were called dissidents, people who oposed the current regime, expressed their ideas about the regime and were often for their activities punished or imprisoned. Samizdat was common in the region of the former Soviet Union countries under the communism regime.

In the former Czechoslovakia samizdat publications started at the beginning of the 1960´s. The raise of this kind of press started after the suppresion of the Prague Spring in the 1968 and invasion of the Soviet Russian troops to Czechoslovakia. After the suppresion of the liberation, Czechoslovakia was put under the “normalization” process which meant a heavy censorship of the freedom of the press. The Office for printing and information was establish to ensure that information that are in contradiction with the intern and international politics of the state will not be published.

In Slovakia famous “underground press” consisted of Christian religious samizdat publications that tried to express their belief under the communism regime which penalized and followed the church, 1982 is the beginning of the samizdat magazine Náboženstvo a súčasnosť (Religion and present) and other 26 publications of samizdat press, 23 from this were Christian oriented. The prints of one of the samizdat religious publications were around 200 to 2000 pieces, publications were mostly printed in one of the biggest ofset print machines in the capital, Bratislava. In 1987 the religious samizdat reached its peak in Slovakia with the publications 31 požiadaviek moravských katolíkov (31 requirements of Moravian Christians) that wanted to ensure the freedom of religious expression in the former Czechoslovakia.

In Czech republic “underground press” was formed around universities and faculties and produced by students. Most of them differed from the official press in the way they experimented with the content, discussed taboo topics, open debates, critics and published also texts of forbiden authors of that time. One of the “real” samizdats that started at the university but later on went beyond was samizdat Revue 88. It was produced and distributed by students of  the university in Brno, who wrote under their real names and even wrote the adress where their lived, which was unique and courageous. Many of the students were threatened to be kicked out of the universities or imprisoned.

The reason of the rise of the samizdat publications in the former Czechoslovakia was the political situation during the 1970-1980´s under the “normalization” and the refusal of the official ideology of the socialism that was serving the rulling elite and its official culture that was supportive of the regime. The unofficial culture in the form of literature and press deleloped at one hand to samizdat, authors that were producing illegaly, underground from the state and on the other hand exile authors, raising their voices outside of the state. The representatives were often isolated, they and their families and friends intimidated, authors of such pres were forbiden to travel or sometimes even work, they were criminalized and in the public eye presented as enemies of the western agents or deviants. Most of the time they were also under the constant police control. Even thought of all this repressive methods against the “underground press”, samizdat literature and press enabled to enact at that time debates and topics that were completely absent in the public or forbiden. They were the critical minority who stood up against the wrongs of the regime and pointed a finger on the rulling elites.

 

Reference:

Čarnoburský J. (2005). Odpor proti komunizmu. Impulz Revue http://www.impulzrevue.sk/article.php?26

Downing, J. (2000) Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. CA: Sage

Posset, J. Česká samizdatová periodika 1968-1989. Brno http://www.scriptum.cz/Posset_Johanna_Ceska_samizdatova_periodika_1968-1989.pdf

Soukopová J. (2010). Zázrak jménem Revue 88 aneb Když samizdat delali studenti. iDnes.cz http://brno.idnes.cz/zazrak-jmenem-revue-88-aneb-kdyz-samizdat-delali-studenti-pk9-/brno-zpravy.aspx?c=A100324_1356492_brno-zpravy_dmk