Context of Research on Samizdat and Dissidence


The University of Toronto possesses a legacy of study and documentation of dissidence. Dr. H. Gordon Skilling (1912-2001), founding director of the Centre for Russian and Eastern Europe Studies (now CERES) at the University, traveled many times to Czechoslovakia beginning in 1937. In later years he came to know and support dissidents, including Vaclav Havel. Skilling smuggled Western press in for dissidents and he brought out few samizdat editions. Skilling wrote a book on “Charter 77 and Human Rights in Czechoslovakia,” and he wrote a book about “Samizdat and An Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe” (Skilling). Thanks in part to Skilling’s efforts, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Toronto possesses a diverse collection of materials on dissidence and samizdat. The “Petlice” collection includes outstanding examples of Czech and Slovak samizdat books (See “Links”). The holdings of the Thomas Fisher Library have been enriched recently by the addition of the Igor Belousovitch Collection of Samizdat and Independent Press, which is reflected in the present Database of Soviet Samizdat Periodicals. Work on this Database has benefited from the materials, interest and support for study of dissidence and samizdat created by Skilling’s legacy.

I would like to acknowledge the help of historians at Memorial, including director Arsenii Roginskii, Aleksandr Daniel’ and Gennadii Kuzovkin, who shared expertise, contacts and materials. Archivist Gabriel Superfin of the Research Center for East European Studies in Bremen, Germany, pointed out sources I would not have found on my own. Archivist Olga Zaslavskaya advocated the important idea of a network of contemporary samizdat research within which the present Database of Soviet Samizdat Periodicals began to take shape. Kathryn Mathe and Szabolcs Polanyi at OSA helped design the initial samizdat database structure and its working principles. Competent and generous assistance was rendered by archivists and staff at the Moscow Memorial Society Archive and the Open Society Archive (Budapest), at the archive of the Research Center for East European Studies (Bremen, Germany), the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People (Jerusalem), George Washington University’s Gelman Library (Washington, D.C.), the Hoover Institution (Standford, CA), the Kaunas Country Public Library (Kaunas, Lithuania), the Keston Collection (Waco, TX), the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre (Vilnius), the Museum-Archive and Documentation Center of Ukrainian Samvydav (Kiev), the “Remember and Save” Association (Haifa), the St. Petersburg Memorial Society, the University of Toronto Libraries, and Vaad-Russia (Moscow).

A series of conferences on samizdat and dissidence provided a place for discussion of methodology and sources and early dissemination of results. These include conferences organized by Olga Zaslavskaya at the Open Society Archive (2005), by the Slavic Department at the University of Pennsylvania (2006), by Friederike Kind and Jessie Labov at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna (2006), by Wolfgang Eichwede at the Research Center for East European Studies in Bremen (2007), by the Nevzlin Center at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and Beth Hatefutsoth, Tel Aviv (2007), and by the Harriman Institute at Columbia University (2011). Historians Yuli Kosharovsky and Enid Wurtman in Jerusalem, Birute Burauskaite in Vilnius, Tatiana Khromova in Moscow, and librarian Malcolm Walker at Keston in Oxford were among those who embodied the special expertise and generosity of people formerly involved in dissidence and its support, who remain committed to responsible historical work on the dissident legacy. The dozens of former dissidents who agreed to interviews for this project provided context, confirmation, new information and something more about devotion to a worthy cause.

Colleagues and students at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature, Slavic Department, Centre for Jewish Studies, Center for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (CERES), the Toronto Centre for the Book and the University of Toronto Libraries provided a stimulating and supportive environment for the pursuit of this work. I am grateful to my students in the Samizdat seminar and the seminar on Modern Textual Imagination for providing challenges and ideas. Research assistants for the project included Anna Chukur, Nina Kouprianova, Lonnie Harrison, Magdalena Gruszczynska and Alex Melnyk. All provided indispensable help. I am grateful to Natalya Laricheva in Moscow and Nelly Portnova in Israel for expert help capturing information on archival documents. Special thanks go to Toronto assistant Anastassia Kostrioukova, who saw the Database through practically from inception to completion.

The Information Technology Services Team of Sian Meikle, Andrew McAlorum, Ken Yang and Gordon Belray translated the data into an effective web interface with admirable expertise and style.

Financial support for the Database of Soviet Samizdat Periodicals was provided by a Standard Research Grant for “The Unofficial Texts of Late Soviet Culture” from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada and from a grant to study Lithuanian and Ukrainian Samizdat from the Joint Initiative in German and European Studies (JIGES) administered by CERES at the University of Toronto.