Monday, August 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Internet Has Reduced but Not Killed Off Samizdat in Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 17 – Despite the expectations of many, the Internet has not killed off samizdat publications in the Russian Federation, although the blogosphere has reduced the amount of “self-published” materials by as much as 50 percent over the last few years, according to an exhibit about samizdat now on display at Moscow’s Sakharov Museum.
In a report on today, journalist Aleksandr Litoy says that the exhibit, which will run until the end of August, shows that “thousands of Russians read self-produced journals, and they do not spare any effort in order to find reading matter [in this format] that fits their taste (
As was the case in Soviet times, so too now, the journalist continues, “samizdat lives according to its own laws which are very different from those of the mass press. Here it is not the journal which seeks its reader, attracting him by means of PR and advertisement, but the reader chooses the journal which corresponds to his almost unique taste.”
Litoy says that it is “not a simple matter” to say why some Russians prefer samizdat to the Internet, since the latter allows for “bypassing the censorship” and is “much less expensive” to use and distribute than printed matter. But he suggests that part of the reason is that samizdat allows its readers to feel intimately connected to “something from period of the dissidents.”
But samizdat now like samizdat in the past is not just about politics. Much of it involves music, art, or fantasy, and many of the devotees of these subjects, Litoy suggests, appear to feel that printed works offer both a greater opportunity for originality, sometimes via mixed media presentations, and greater permanence compared to someone on the web.
And yet another reason for the survival of samizdat is that in the flood of information offered by the Internet, samizdat strikes many as more reliable and authentic precisely because of the greater effort that is required to produce it, according to Elena Strukova, the head of the sector of non-traditional publications of the Moscow State Public Historical Library.
And that authenticity, she continues, is one of the reasons that her library continues to receive a flood of such publications, “hundreds” in 2008 alone. According to her, this new samizdat is produced by two different kinds of people: “those who are trying to influence society and those who are consciously going underground.”
The new samizdat, however, is in two respects very different than its ancestor. On the one hand, it is often distributed through bookstores, where because it is issued in fewer than 1000 copies, there is no need for it to be registered as media. Litoy reports that “one of the most popular places” for this trade is Moscow’s “Falanster” bookshop.
And on the other, today’s samizdat interacts with the Internet. There are several sites which index this kind of publication, including and, and there is also an increasing interpenetration of these two kinds of media, with some people producing both. An example of that, Litoy says, is to be found at

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