The ProjectAfter Stalin’s death in 1953 and the following exposure of his crimes at the 20th Congress, free expression seemed to cast a faint ray of light on Russian culture and society and, with a domino effect, on the entire area beyond the iron curtain. In the previous twenty years, the terrorist and dogmatic yoke of socialist realism had forced many intellectuals to choose exile, exterminated all forms of political opposition and reduced to silence almost any facets of the national artistic tradition. However, the hope for a real change lasted for only the blink of an eye and within a lustre (and most definitively after the repression of the Prague Spring) censorship and authoritarianism tightened their controls again. With the return of the processes against the intellectuals, which often had a vast international echo, the long season of dissent began, that is, the season of a conflict, both ideal and real, between the political regime and civil society, no longer willing to give up rights that had been officially sanctioned by the 1975 Helsinki conference. Such conflict will be a defining feature of the later history of the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The intellectuals’ favourite strategy in order to circulate texts and ideas not consistent with the official tenets proved to be that of samizdat, which consisted, in the mere copy and distribution of banned texts. The works propagated through the samizdat system were later exported to Western countries and there published in their original language by publishing houses founded by exiled intellectuals. It is a phenomenon that requires to be analysed on the basis of new premises, also because it was a forerunner of similar tendencies in contemporary culture. It is still the symbolic space of samizdat (and of the parallel culture that permeated all social layers) that led to maturity those civic initiatives that would get a more and more important political role after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The researchers involved in the project aim at retracing the history and features of the independent underground publishing industry that energized the cultural production of the 70’s and 80’s in many countries of “real socialism”. Samizdat and “tamizdat” will be thoroughly charted as European instances of alternative culture in the second half of the twentieth century. The project also intends to bring forward fresh perspectives from which to invigorate the current critical and historiographical debate. The dialogue among specialists in the field is meant to result in a significant work of synthesis that would reconstruct the overall interpretative frame on the basis of a multidisciplinary approach to the phenomenon in each country of Eastern Europe. During the project a wide range of critical texts and original documents now hard to find will be progressively made accessible to the scientific community via an Internet portal.
Given the potential breadth of the subject, it might come as a surprise that it has recently been explored almost exclusively with a historical-memorialistic approach. On the other hand, in the light of the strong personal involvement samizdat was likely to prompt, it is quite understandable that some of the most significant analyses in the field have been led by its main protagonists (as it is the case with underground culture on the whole). Our intent, instead, is to reclaim the critical and methodological value of a philological approach, matched with the new tools provided by cultural studies and semiology, in order to enhance the comparative and multidisciplinary nature of our research (both on a diachronic and on a synchronic level), which originates in the very composition of the working group.
At the first stage of the project the areas selected for investigation (Russian, Czech and Polish) will be divided according to temporal and geographical criteria. In addition, documents and texts will be ascribed to macro-categories – publishing houses, volumes, magazines, miscellanea, single editions – whose catalogues and general indexes will be identified and then made available on the portal. At the second stage, all samizdat cultural magazines and texts that were not published on the traditional editorial channels after 1989/1991 will be gradually converted into PDF format. The third stage is related to the organization of a series of periodic meetings and to the publication of the preliminary research results. On the occasion of the six scheduled round tables, scholars and specialists will have the chance to develop a more articulated theoretical debate on some of the most interesting and less known aspects of the world of samizdat and dissent. The fourth stage, finally, entails the organization of a great exhibition of samizdat and tamizdat and of an international conference, whose proceedings will be published both in Italian and in English.
With the help of an international team of qualified specialists and of the most advanced technologies for the study and reproduction of texts, the research group aspire to carry out a substantial work that could represent a decisive step forward in the international research on samizdat and, more generally, on the dissent movements in Eastern Europe countries between the 50’s and the end of the 80’s. The portal (and consequently the corpus of digitalized texts), the studies published gradually, the exhibition catalogue and the conference proceedings will represent the fruit of the success of the work of the International Research Unit that will coordinate all the initiatives. The project permits also the formation of a new research group (mainly made up of Italians but with strong international links), who will be entitled to enter the study network on this phenomenon that has progressively being established in the last few years. In the three years of work we forsee the involvment of a large group of international institutions with which we intend to create a relationship of profitable collaboration. The basic idea of the project is to analyze the socialist countries experience within European history using their most particular phenomenon (which is the organization of the samizdat, that the Czech theorist V. Benda proposed to take as a model of the entire “parallel society” that was needed to be created in opposition to the official one), in order to enhance significantly the reciprocal knowledge among European countries.
March 2009 - March 2011