HU OSA 300-85 Samizdat Archives
- Reference code
- HU OSA 300-85
- Samizdat Archives
- 1956 - 1994
- Description level
- Extent and medium (processed)
- 1234 Archival box, 154.25 linear meters
5 Oversized box (40 cm), 2.0 linear meters
19 Archival card box, 5.99 linear meters
- Name of creator(s)
- Samizdat Archives
- Archival history
- A common belief between RFE/RL staff was that the first Samizdat document to arrive RFE/RL was Khrushchev’s secret speech on Stalin’s cult of 1956. In fact it was only in the 60s that Samizdat became a serious factor of public life in the Soviet Union. The Siniavskii - Daniet trial, in February 1966, sparked off a wave of protests which, interacting with the regime’s reply, grew into a widespread movement. This movement brought into being the first tide of Samizdat publications.
As a result of the combined efforts of the general movement towards political dissent and religious and national groups, by 1968 the number of Samizdat publications had increased dramatically, and the same level was maintained for several years afterwards.
At the end of the 60s, the staff of the Soviet Research Department started systematically building up a Samizdat collection. By the time the Samizdat Archives (SA) was set up as a separate unit, the Samizdat collection numbered hundreds of documents.
The SA developed a detailed procedure for handling new arrivals. Specially chosen members of its staff were to study each incoming document carefully to identify and separate out items which were falsified or fabricated (presumably by the KGB), and to substantiate the information in the authentic ones. If they believed that publicity would be harmful to a document’s author, or to anyone mentioned in it or for some reason disapproved of by the author, the document was not further disseminated. Because Radio Liberty was primarily interested in political and economic subjects, belles letters were usually separated out (with a few exceptions consisting of short pieces with socio-political relevance). As for the rest of the Samizdat documents, priority was given to those that were considered most important in terms of RFE/RL's policy and mission as formulated in its Policy Guidance and other strategic papers.
Each of the selected documents was given a registration number for identification under the letters AS (or AC in Russia) - Arkhiv Samizdata - and a serial number. Altogether 6617 documents were registered, from AS 1 to AS 6617. (Further on we will refer to these materials as “published Samizdat documents" for reasons that will be explained later.)
The primary goal of the Samizdat project was to make Samizdat documents available to the Radio staff. All selected documents were circulated inside the Radio in the form of a regularly published bulletin (which during certain periods was either weekly or fortnightly) called “Materialy Samizdata" (“Materials of Samizdat"). The first issue of “Materialy Samizdata" was published on May 31, 1968, before SA came into being as a separate unit. The bulletin contained the original texts of Samizdat documents with minimal comments (with a cover page listing included documents). The publication was suspended in December 1991, though before its final termination, nine more issues were published.
At SA the Samizdat documents which appeared in “Materialy Samizdata" were organized as an archive with two complete sets of materials: the first was used by Samizdat staff (Series 9), while the other was open to researchers (Series 10).
Another publication by SA was the “Sobranie dokumentov Samizdata“ (“Collection of Samizdat Documents"). 30 volumes of this collection (totaling over 3000 registered Samizdat documents) were published between 1972 and 1978 with limited number of copies to supplement the Slavic collections of several national and university libraries in Europe and the United States (Series 11).
To create easy access to the published Samizdat documents SA staff developed numerous finding aids, including seven issues of registers (1971-1977) in Russian and in English, several sets of card files, name indexes and electronic databases (Series 1-8, 30).
Since RFE/RL was very much aware of the importance of providing reliable information, the factual content of Samizdat documents was very carefully checked. For reference purpose, the staff of the Samizdat unit built up clipping collections (Subject and Biographical Files) covering topics relating to Samizdat issues (Series 12, 13). There is also a set of reference sources collected at the SA (Series 70).
One of the functions of the SA was to monitor the human rights situation in the Soviet Union. Topics which received special attention were political prisoners and the incarceration of some of them in mental hospitals. There are several card files relating to SA activities in this field (Series 20-29)
Those Samizdat documents which were not included in “Materialy Samizdata", made a backlog. (We will refer to this part of the collection as “unpublished Samizdat documents".) The backlog contains the following types of Samizdat documents: (a) those which were considered falsified or unreliable; (b) those containing information which was impossible to verify; (c) those excluded from publication as containing private information; (d) those prepared for publication, but not actually published for different reasons; (e) those separated out as being of less interest; (f) many documents from the Perestroika period, when there were so many arrivals that it was impossible to include everything of importance in “Materialy Samizdata".
During the existence of SA, several projects were initiated with the aim of processing the backlog; none of them were completed (Series 36-42).
The remaining Samizdat documents were hardly organized at all: only part of them were in folders, few folders had titles, many were mixed up with other records (processing notes, reference materials, administrative records). The mixed materials were divided into the following groups - Unpublished Samizdat documents, Reference materials, Processing materials, Administrative records.
When processing Unpublished Samizdat documents, we assumed as a basis for their sorting that there were three groups of folders with original titles: those with a personal name as a title, those with a subject heading as a title, and those with dates used instead of a title. Following this principle the whole mass of unprocessed Samizdat documents was divided into three series: Unpublished Samizdat: Subject Files; Unpublished Samizdat: Biographical Files; Unpublished Samizdat Sorted Chronologically (Series 44-46). Since the majority of the original titles were in Russian (some in English), all titles are given in Russian.
With the beginning of the Perestroika period, in the wake of glasnost and the cessation of foreign radio jamming, RFE/RL was bombarded with letters from the Soviet Union. In February 1989, SA was assigned to the task of processing this correspondence. It created the Collection of Letters that is part of the SA holdings (Series 31-35).
During the same period, SA became famous for its Informal/Regional Press Collection, which was considered to be the best in the West. Though the collection includes a certain number of pre-Perestroika issues, it consists mainly of publications of the period from 1987 to 1992. Traditionally, as it was at SA, this collection is divided into two series: Informal Press (over 1000 tiles, 6000 issues) - Series 19, and Regional Press (1400 titles, 10,000 issues) - Series 20. In fact, however, as several staff members noted in their interviews, it was very hard to distinguish one group from the other, and the two series are very much intermixed. There are several finding aids to this collection created at SA (Series 15-17).
Content and structure
- Scope and Content (Abstract)
- The core of the Samizdat Archives (SA) is the collection of Samizdat documents (many of them copies) created in the former Soviet Union (usually for underground circulation) and then sent (usually smuggled) abroad to make them available to the public via Western mass media. All the other materials which belong to the SA holdings were built by SA staff around the collection of Samizdat documents.
The SA collected Samizdat documents which reflected the interests and activities of opposition movements in the Soviet Union (human rights groups, national and religious groups). These include statements of protest by groups and individuals, discussions and analyses of the Soviet political and economic system, reports on the anti-constitutional actions of the Soviet authorities. Later, during the Perestroika period, two major topics for Samizdat documents emerged: the future development of Soviet society and efforts to build up a new political system.
The existing holdings of SA grouped as follows:
Published Samizdat documents (Series 1-10)
This group includes Samizdat documents (6617) which were processed by SA staff and circulated around RFE/RL in the “Materialy Samizdata" publication, and the registers and indexes which SA staff developed for this collection.
Unpublished Samizdat documents (Series 36-42, 44-46)
This group includes those Samizdat documents which reached RFE/RL, but for different reasons were not selected for circulation.
Support materials (Series 12, 13, 20-30, 70)
This group includes numerous reference materials which SA staff collected during the years of its existence: intensive subject and biographical files built primarily on such sources as Soviet and Western mass media, several special indexes, and a small collection of reference publications relating to Samizdat issues, but published outside the radio.
Letters of the Perestroika period (Series 31-35)
This group includes several thousands of letters which reached RFE/RL from the Soviet Union during the Perestroika period. Only a part of them were registered and processed at the time of their arrival.
Informal / Regional Press (Series 15-19)
This is a large collection of press materials (newspapers and magazines). For the most part it consists of the first independent publications of the Perestroika period, but there are also official local Soviet publications or publications with limited circulation and some Samizdat publications of the pre-Perestroika period. SA developed several finding aids for this collection.
Administrative Files (Series 47)
This group contains administrative papers kept by members of SA staff for their personal use: letters, telexes, and e-mail messages, memorandums, instructions, time sheets, requests, requisitions, and other documentation reflecting the activity of SA.
For over 20 years, RFE/RL collected Samizdat documents relating to attempts by the Soviet public to influence the policy of the totalitarian Soviet state and mostly dealing with human rights issues. Samizdat and RFE/RL as the most effective of its propagandists played a very significant role in the development of Soviet society and in the history of the human rights movement. Considering that the Soviet authorities did their utmost to shut down independent voices, the RFE/RL collection of Samizdat documents sheds light on an otherwise hidden part of Soviet history through years from Zastoi to the Perestroika period.
The SA collection is also a unique source of historical materials documenting a very significant period in the development of Soviet history when Soviet society was taking its first steps towards democracy by implementing the Glasnost’ (Openness) policy. The Informal/Regional Press Collection, letters from the Soviet Union to RFE/RL and hundreds of Samizdat documents give a wide picture of a society in transition with all its confusions, hopes, discoveries, and disappointments.
Conditions of access and use
- Conditions governing access
- Following Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty decision to close document, which were not published, for indefinite time, the Open Society Archives limited access to several series of Samizdat sub-fond. There are two levels of limitation: if access to series is restricted, it means that users may see copies of the documents with all names whited out; if access to series is strictly restricted, it means that these documents are not available till the time when the Radio makes decision to open them.
- Armenian, Belarusian, English, Estonian, French, Georgian, German, Italian, Kazakh, Kirghiz; Kyrgyz, Latvian, Lithuanian, Pushto; Pashto, Romanian; Moldavian; Moldovan, Russian, Ukrainian
- Publication note
- "Materialy Samizdata" including the Register to no. 3001- 6314 and "Sobranie dokumentov Samizdata" also exist in microfish format. Available at the OSA library.
Register to numbers 1- 3000 is available in Englisg and Russian as well.
- The chronology of Samizdat materials represents a serious problem for researchers. To start with, many Samizdat documents are not dated. If they are dated, the date usually indicates when the document was created. In certain cases, however, it indicates when the document was circulated. Sometimes there is a significant time-gap between the two. This applies in particular to those cases when the circulated documents (although written and sometimes published years earlier) began their second lives in Samizdat (for example, AS 1340, an unpublished letter from Lenin, dated 10 February 1922).
Normally it took several months at least for Samizdat documents to reach the Radio, though “there was nothing extraordinary about Samizdat materials appearing in the West one or two years after their apparent appearance in the Soviet Union". On the other hand, there are cases when statements by prominent figures like Sakharov could be made public in the West before they had really begun to circulate inside the USSR.
Date of arrival at the Radio is often indicated on the back of the document, in its left corner. If neither the date of creation, nor the date of circulation is known, we used this date for dating Samizdat materials.
As for old documents circulated in Samizdat, in our series description we referred to the dates of their circulation. That is why Field 3-1-3 (“Dates when documents were created") of the Samizdat Archives ISAAD indicates years 1963-1992.