Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Soviet Samizdat’s Flagship Publication Launched 40 Years Ago Today

Paul Goble

Baku, April 30 – Forty years ago today, on April 30, 1968, the “Chronicle of Current Events,” which for 15 years served as the samizdat journal of record in the Soviet Union, began publication, providing information about the human rights activists and national movements of that era found nowhere else and that the Soviet leaders did not want anyone to know.
Initially, this type-written publication appeared in issues of 10 to 30 pages five to six times a year. By the early 1980s, its periodicity fell to only two or three issues a year but its size grew to 150 to 200 pages. And in the course of its 15 year run, 65 issues were prepared, although for various reasons, including official repression, two of the numbers did not appear.
Like other samizdat publications, the “Chronicle” was distributed via underground channels across the Soviet Union and to foreign countries, where its contents were not only studied by researchers but broadcast back into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty, the BBC, and other international stations.
And while the “Chronicle” prompted other groups to copy its format, most famously the “Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church” (which appeared between 1972 and 1988), and other publications like the Crimean Tatar “Emel” which did not last so long, none of the others ever acquired its authority or played a greater role in helping Soviet citizens to free themselves.
According to the Memorial human rights organization now, the “Chronicle” published “tens of thousands” of reports from all corners of the Soviet Union about democratic movements. And it acquired such authority within the USSR and abroad, that if something appeared in its pages, it was accepted as true (
Because it not only reported but emboldened those prepared to resist Soviet oppression, the KGB regularly attempted to close it down. In 1972, at the time of détente with the West, The Soviets were able to prevent it from appearing regularly; and in 1973, they were able to prevent it from appearing at all.
“But on May 7, 1974, three leading dissidents Tatyana Velikanova, Sergei Kovalyev, and Tatyana Khodorovich presented to foreign journalists three ‘retrospective’ numbers of the Chronicle,” Memorial says, thereby allowing this samizdat publication to continue to serve as a journal of record.
But almost everyone connected with the “Chronicle” – and this list includes, in addition to the three named above, prominent dissidents like Natalya Gorbanevskaya, Yuri Shikhanovich, Petr Yakir, Viktor Krasin, Gabriel Superfin, and Aleksandr Lavut – was subject to systematic persecution by the Soviet authorities.
Tonight in Moscow, some of them and a few of the many who benefited from the important role the “Chronicle” played will gather to mark this anniversary, recalling what was, in Memorial’s words, “the fullest and most precise compilation of historical information about dissident activity and political persecutions in the USSR between 1968 and 1982.
A detailed history of this publication and the texts of all the issues of the “Chronicle” are now available online (, a reminder for new generations of the power of a small group of people not afraid to speak the truth in the face of official falsehood and oppression.

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