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Samizdat (Russian: самиздат; Russian pronunciation: [səmɨˈzdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade officially-imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.

Vladimir Bukovsky defined it as follows:



Essentially, the samizdat copies of text, such as Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita or Václav Havel's writing The Power of the Powerless, were passed among friends. The techniques to reproduce the forbidden literature and periodicals varied from making several copies of the content using carbon paper, either by hand or on a typewriter, to printing on mainframe printers during night shifts, to printing the books on semi-professional printing presses in larger quantities. Before glasnost, the practice was dangerous, because copy machines, printing presses and even typewriters in offices were under control of the First Departments (KGB outposts): reference printouts for all of them were stored for identification purposes.

Terminology and related concepts

Etymologically, the word samizdat is made out of sam (Russian: сам, “self, by oneself”) and izdat (Russian: издат, abbr. издательство, izdatel’stvo, “publishing house”), thus “self-published.” The Ukrainian term is samvýdav (самвидав), from sam, “self”, and vydannya, “publication.”[2]

The term was coined as a pun by Russian poet Nikolai Glazkov in the 1940s, who typed copies of his poems indicating Samsebyaizdat (Самсебяиздат, “Myself by Myself Publishers”) on the front page[3] by analogy with the typical names of publishing houses in the Soviet Union, such as Politizdat.

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