In the Soviet Union in the late 1960s, as the hopes of reform aroused by Khrushchev's "Thaw" were thwarted by the post-Stalinist totalitarianism of the Brezhnev era, a new form of surreptitious free expression appeared. Called Samizdat, this form of underground literature was published in either handwritten or typewritten form and circulated from person to person. The items distributed via samizdat included both periodicals and manuscripts such as Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago. Those who produced, distributed and read samizdat risked jail, the Gulag, or imprisonment in psychiatric facilities if caught by Soviet authorities.
Approximately 40 years ago, the most famous samizdat periodical was first published: The Chronicle of Current Events. To commemorate this anniversary, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has a fascinating article about the Chronicle and the woman who started it. It is not often that I agree with Joan Baez, but the following quote is not much of an exaggeration:
"Because of people like Natalya Gorbanevskaya," Joan Baez once said, "I am convinced that you and I are still alive and walking around on the face of the Earth."
Natalya Gorbanevskaya was the dissident behind "The Chronicle Of Current Events," a samizdat publication that first appeared 40 years ago this week in the Soviet Union.
It was Gorbanevskaya who single-handedly produced its first few editions, before she was arrested in 1969 and spent more than two years in a Soviet psychiatric facility.
But her fellow dissidents continued the publication of "Chronicle" after her arrest. Following its 1968 debut, for 15 years and 65 issues the "Chronicle" documented the Soviet regime's persecution of its own people. Its mimeographed issues waged an uneven struggle against the daily million-copy editions of "Pravda," "Izvestia," and other Soviet propaganda organs.
This additional quote, from liberal Russian politician Grigory Yavlinsky, aptly describes the courage of Gorbanevskaya and her comrades:
"These people knowingly sealed their own fate. They knew that sooner or later they would be cruelly punished for this, whether by imprisonment or by exile. But even knowing this, not doubting it, they held the free movement of information, the reporting to the entire world of what was happening to people in the Soviet Union, more dearly than their own fates."