Russian samizdat and photo negatives of unofficial literature in the USSR.jpg
Russian samizdat and photo negatives of unofficial literature
Literal meaningself-publishing

Samizdat (Russian: Самизда́т, lit. "self-publishing") was a form of dissident activity across the Eastern Bloc in which individuals reproduced censored and underground makeshift publications, often by hand, and passed the documents from reader to reader. The practice of manual reproduction was widespread due to most typewriters and printing devices were inventorized and required permission to access. This grassroots practice to evade official Soviet censorship was fraught with danger, as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials. Vladimir Bukovsky summarized it as follows: "Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend time in prison for it myself."[1]

Name origin and variations

Etymologically, the word samizdat derives from sam (Russian: сам, "self, by oneself") and izdat (Russian: издат, an abbreviation of издательство, izdatel'stvo, "publishing house"), and thus means "self-published". The Ukrainian language has a similar term: samvydav (самвидав), from sam, "self", and vydavnytstvo, "publishing house".[2]

The Russian poet Nikolai Glazkov coined a version of the term as a pun in the 1940s when he typed copies of his poems and included the note Samsebyaizdat (Самсебяиздат, "Myself by Myself Publishers") on the front page.[3]

Tamizdat refers to literature published abroad (там, tam, "there"), often from smuggled manuscripts.[4]