articles - A Brief Report on Present Knowledge of Czech Samizdat Phenomena 1948-1989
 
 
 
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A Brief Report on Present Knowledge of Czech Samizdat Phenomena 1948-1989 
  

   
   Looking back at the fourteen years following the collapse of totalitarian regimes in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 and considering the possibilities of establishing the research of samizdat phenomena on a serious scientific basis, we might well say that the greatest achievement ever can be seen in the international exhibitions of samizdat products held subsequently in Berlin, Prague, Brussels and now here in Budapest. The texts published in the exhibition catalogues have undoubtedly largely contributed to our knowledge of the discussed phenomenon and have managed to bring the topic to the international fore. On the other hand, however, these exhibitions can be seen only as a first step towards the true recognition of the samizdat phenomena in terms of literary history, history of art, politology, sociology etc. etc. 

 
   As far as today's Czech Republic is concerned, it is well known that this part of our history is still found on the margin of interests of most historians, sociologists, politicians, literary historians, to say nothing of the general reading public, so it can be said that it is a true wonder that we may name some of the achievements in this field of knowledge.
 
   First of all we must mention the activities of the Prague library LIBRI PROHIBITI which was established as early as October 1990 as a "non profit organisation" and has been run by its founder Mr. Jiří Gruntorád (on whose behalf I have the honour to speak here) up to this day, among its other founding members being, for example, Václav Havel, Ludvík Vaculík, prof. Radim Palouš, prof. Vilém Prečan, and Pavel Tigrid. As is mentioned in the LIBRI PROHIBITI Annual Report for the year 2003, to this day "the library consists of collections of samizdat and exile literature, of an archive of documents, and of an audiovisual section, in all more than 23 000 library units and over 1750 periodical titles". From the same source we learn that "the greater part of this material is [now] recorded in electronic form", and that the library "owns materials that are available nowhere else in the Czech Republic or even the world", and that "in view of this the library has fundamental significance for improving the information situation in this area". However, the LIBRI PROHIBITI Annual Report also informs us that rather than Czech samizdat activities it has been the exile book production of the past decades which seemed to attract more attention from the side of the LIBRI PROHIBITI librarians - at least judging from the list of library bibliographic publications, and, of course, we also learn that some of further library projects are now jeopardized due to chronic problems with insufficient finances. All in all it must be emphasized that the LIBRI PROHIBITI Library archives form an indispensable basis for all researchers and students in the area of Czech samizdat. Other Czech or foreign libraries or institutes which pursue similar aims in archiving samizdat books and periodicals can hardly compete with the LIBRI PROHIBITI Library. Here I have in mind for instance Československé dokumentační středisko [Czechoslovak Documentation Centre] in Prague, Národní knihovna České republiky [National Library of the Czech Republic], or Literární archiv Památníku národního písemnictví [Literary Archives of the Museum of Czech Literature] in Prague, to say nothing of various private collections or  archives of academic institutions both in the Czech Republic and abroad.
 
   In the area of documentation it is also necessary to mention an outstanding Czech project of the recent past - the Czech Television fifteen-part documentary series called simply Samizdat, presented on our TV in 2003. Its makers - the director Andrej Krob and screen-writer Pavel Kosatík - have tried, mostly using the form of interviewing the former samizdat publishers, editors and writers, to throw light upon the independent publishing in Czechoslovakia during all four decades of the totalitarian regime. The fifteen hours of this documentary film give us enough opportunity to get a better idea of the most different ways of the samizdat production in the Czech lands and Slovakia, ranging from the best known Czech samizdat rows of editions of the seventies, like, for instance, Edice Petlice, Edice Expedice, Edice Kvart, Krameriova expedice, Česká expedice, Edice Popelnice etc., via political samizdat activities from the late forties up to the late eighites, to samizdat activities of surrealists, Catholic essayists, Jehovah's Witnesses, underground poets and journalists etc. etc. Also documented are some of the regional samizdat activities, musical samizdat distribution (the so-called "magnizdat"), unofficial theatre performances, alternative film-making, and contacts of samizdat publishers with their exile colleagues abroad.
 
   There can hardly be any doubt that bibliographies of samizdat publications form the necessary basis, a sort of starting point for any research in the given area. Although relatively a lot has been done in this field in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic since 1989 (and even earlier) we cannot be satisfied with the achieved results. As we all know, bibliographic work is a demanding, time-consuming matter which usually brings little if any reward to its authors. This is even more true in our case when no "real" books are actually objects of a bibliographer's work, merely their "illegal" immitation. Can any of the samizdat activities be registered in the form of a bibliography at all? What about the so-called "wild samizdat", the anonymous typewritten copies of copies of copies? Where is the difference between a samizdat publication, on one hand, and a manuscript, on the other? Nevertheless, it is only the attempts made in this direction, that can answer such questions.
 
   Here, as well, we have to say that so far, much more has been done for the bibliographic registration of exile books and periodicals than the samizdat production proper. Only a few Czech samizdat bibliographies have already been published in a monographic book form, for instance Česká samizdatová periodika 1968-1989 by an Austrian student of Czech studies Johanna Posset (Brno 1991); Minulost a dějiny v českém a slovenském samizdatu 1970-1989 [The Past and History in Czech and Slovak Samizdat 1970-1989] by Jan Vlk, Vendula Vaňková and Jiří Novotný (Brno, Doplněk 1993); Edice českého samizdatu 1972-1991 by Jitka Hanáková (Praha 1997), summarizing the results of other bibliographies for the purposes of the National Library of the Czech Republic; Informace o Chartě 77: Článková bibliografie 1978-1990 [Information about Charter 77: An Article Bibliography 1978-1990] by Jiří Gruntorád and Jana Lifková (Brno, Doplněk 1998); Slovník českých literárních časopisů, periodických literárních sborníků a almanachů 1945-2000 [A Dictionary of Czech Literary Journals, Periodical Literary Anthologies and Almanachs] by Blahoslav Dokoupil (Brno 2002); or, in a way, Jazzová sekce v čase a nečase 1971-1987 [Jazz Section in Good Times and Bad Times 1971-1987] by Vladimír Kouřil (Praha 1999).
 
   Among the Czech periodicals of the nineties it was especially the journal Kritický sborník edited by Karel Palek-Fidelius where the bibliographies of the following samizdat editions had gradually been published: Jungiana (1991/4), Nové cesty myšlení (1992/1), Spisy Jana Patočky (1992/1), Edice Popelnice (1992/2), Krameriova expedice 78 (1992/4), Česká expedice (1993/1), Edice Půlnoc (1993/3), Pražská imaginace (1994/2), Edice Expedice (1994/3, 4), Alef and Knihovna Střední Evropy (1998-1999/2-3). Moreover, several article bibliographies of samizdat periodicals were also published in Kritický sborník, mostly being the work of Jiří Gruntorád. First of all, an article bibliography of Kritický sborník itself, i.e. of its samizdat past, (1991/1, 2); then Revolver Revue (1991/3, 4); Střední Evropa (1995-1996/1-2), Obsah (1995-1996/3, 4; 1996-1997/1, 2, 3, 4; 1997-1998/1, 2- 3); Vokno (1999-2000/1). 
 
   A bibliography of the best known and most abundant Czechoslovak samizdat edition - Edice Petlice - has not been published yet, which is rather surprising. The first attempt at such a bibliography was published in the exile journal ACTA (1987/3-4, in Scheinfeld- Schwarzenberg, Germany; also in English translation) [reedited in Nové knihy, 1990, 7-23].
 
   Other Czech periodicals have occasionaly given space to samizdat bibliographies, too. So, for example, Revolver Revue, BOX, a Moravian literary review, in which a bibliography of Moravian samizdat editions was published (1996/6).
 
   An outstanding attempt to describe and register numerous "magnizdat" activities of the seventies and eighties has been made by a Czech-Canadian student of Czech, Anna Vanicek: in her so far unpublished disertation Underground Rock Music in Czechoslovakia 1968-1989, submitted at York University, Ontario, Canada, 1997.
 
   So far only few Czech or foreign publications have dealt with samizdat as a social, political and cultural phenomenon. Let me remind here the remarkable and in this respect initiatory, inaugural work by the late professor Gordon Skilling, a scholar of vast interests, especially in political science and sociology, Samizdat and Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe, published simultaneously in the US and the UK in 1989. This book represented one of the first serious attempts to describe and interpret the discussed phenomenon and to introduce it to West European and American readers.
 
   No less important for the Czech literary scene was Slovník českých spisovatelů 1948-1979 [A Dictionary of Czech Writers 1948-1979] by Jiří Brabec, Jiří Gruša, Igor Hájek, Petr Kabeš, and Jan Lopatka, which itself was first published in samizdat form in 1979 (Edice Petlice, 2nd edition: Sixty-Eight Publishers, Toronto, 1982) the role of which was essential in the recognition of the scale of the unofficial literary scene.
 
   From 1989 onwards we can register the effort of Czech literary historians to give the samizdat and exile literary scene its adequate and proper place within the frame of history of literature and the arts. It can be said without much exageration that some of those works managed to re-evaluate the whole of the 20th century Czech literary scene. For example Slovník českých spisovatelů od roku 1945 [A Dictionary of Czech Writers since 1945]: a two-volume dictionary of Czech literature, the work of a group of authors, published in Prague in 1995 and 1998. Similar synthetic effort in appreciating and evaluating the samizdat literary scene can be seen in a number of works by literary historian Jiří Holý, for instance Česká literatura od počátků ke dnešku [Czech Literature from its Beginnings up to this Day] (Jiří Holý et alii, Praha 2000), or by Lubomír Machala, Panorama české literatury [A Panoramic View of Czech Literature] (L. Machala et alii, Olomouc 1994). 
 
   Various aspect and branches of Czech samizdat literature have recently roused interest of other literary historians, for example Jiří Trávníček, Poezie poslední možnosti [Poetry of Last Chances] (Praha 1996); Gertraude Zand, Totální realismus a trapná poesie. Česká neoficiální literatura 1948-1953 (Brno 2002; first published in the German original under the title Totaler Realismus und Peinliche Poesie. Tschechische Untergrund-Literatur 1948- 1953 by Peter Lang Verlag in 1998); Alena Nádvorníková, K surrealismu [Towards Surrealism] (Praha 1998); Martin Pilař, Underground. Kapitoly o českém literáním undergroundu [Underground. Chapters on Czech Literary Underground] (Brno 1999).
 
   Moreover, recent years have seen perhaps the first attempt to create an interdisciplinary, collective work which deals with various aspects of the independent cultural scene of the past, including the samizdat phenomena. The voluminous book Alternativní kultura. Příběh české společnosti 1945-1989 [Alternative Culture. A Story of Czech Society 1945-1989] (Praha 2001) the editor of which was the professor of sociology Josef Alan, consists of contributions of fourteen authors who tried to interpret the wide range of the independent cultural scene, various aspects of samizdat phenomena being dealt with here by Stanislav Dvorský, Jiří Gruntorád, Tomáš Vrba, and Martin Machovec. Here, prof. Alan himself published his essay "Alternativní kultura jako sociologické téma" [Alternative Culture as a Topic of Sociology] which is probably one of the first attempts to interpret samizdat and other independent activities of the past decades from the point of view of sociology.
 
   Although we could continue with our list of achievements in the field of scientific approaches towards samizdat phenomena, we prefer to stop it now. For such brief ennumeration does not say much about the quality of the mentioned works which, regrettably, is quite often quite far from the desired. Some of the bibliographies, based on theses or disertations of university students, contain a number of mistakes, and it must be also admitted, that even those synthetic works mentioned often fail to fulfil their big scientific ambitions as some of their authors still do not seem to be able to get rid of their biased views, subjective feelings, and sometimes tend to ignore or underestimate one or another aspect of independent, samizdat activities of the past.
 
   All in all it must be admitted that the Czech samizdat phenomena as a whole have not been thoroughly investigated yet. One of the obstacles blocking our way towards establishing the true scientific research of the samizdat phenomena is undoubtedly to be found in insufficient interest in the discussed area on the side of Ministery of Culture of the Czech Republic, although we have to understand that their financial funds are limited. Too often it is the case that individual researchers, literary historians, bibliographers etc. have to spend most of their working hours in employments very much distant from their main objects of interests, to make the living, and thus being able to pursue the aims of their research work only in their free time and, of course, without being paid for it. It is obvious then that the important part of our common past, as samizdat culture undoubtedly was, is now being marginalized and suffers because of the lack of interest.
   I would like to end this contribution of mine by saying a few words about my own work in the field of samizdat bibliography. As an editor I started to work some 18 years ago on a bibliography of the works of the poet and philosopher Egon Bondy - the leading figure of Czech underground movement from the early fifties onward. Those modest beginnings have recently resulted in Bondy's bibliography which is now accessible on the web site of the LIBRI PROHIBITI library. This work, covering 128 pages, has of course been done in the author's free time and without hope of any grant or any way of publishing it, i.e. with the exception of the internet. Let it be mentioned here, as a pars pro toto, that there is no doubt that a number of our Czech colleagues have to pursue their interests in researching the samizdat phenomena under similar conditions. 
   Egon Bondy's work of a poet, philosopher, novellist, essaysist, playwright, translator and radical underground marxist has found the form of samizdat publications in Czechoslovakia throughout the forty years of his life from 1948 up to 1989, the few exemptions from this rule being found only in the late sixties when Bondy managed to publish three of his purely philosophical works then, of course, only under his true name of Zbyněk Fišer. Consequently, his work has always been a challenge to samizdat editors, bibliographers and now even to some literary historians who do not despise him because of his left-wing orientation. 
   The bibliography of his work consists of eight parts: 1/ Printed publications, 2/ Samizdat titles, 3/ List of manuscripts found in archives, 4/ List of manuscripts of samizdat publications deposited in Literary Archives of the Museum of Czech Literature in Prague, 5/ List of author's correspondence found in various private archives, 6/ Chronology of samizdat collections of poems, 7/ Chronology of samizdat prose writings, 8/ Chronology of samizdat philosophical works. 
   Now I shall give you a few data to illustrate the above mentioned parts: 
   To this day 82 printed books by Egon Bondy have been registered, including several translations of his texts into foreign languages, and his own translations of texts by other authors.
   165 titles of individual samizdat works have been registered which, of course, represent only the first issues of these works.
   266 manuscript items, bundles or archive units of both published and unpublished works, of which 52 have been deposited in Literary Archives of the Museum of Czech Literature in Prague. 
   40 collections of received or sent letters, items of correspondence, some of them consisting of up to one or two hundred letters, none of which, of course, has ever been published.
   My recent work on Bondy's bibliography has taken about six months.
 

Thank you for your attention. 

May 2004, Budapest 
 
 
 
 

 
A Brief Report on Present Knowledge of Czech Samizdat Phenomena 1948-1989 
 
/Martin Machovec, Prague/ 
Books quoted: 
Johanna Posset: Česká samizdatová periodika 1968-1989, Brno 1991
Jan Vlk, Vendula Vaňková and Jiří Novotný: Minulost a dějiny v českém a slovenském samizdatu 1970-1989 [The Past and History in Czech and Slovak Samizdat 1970-1989], Brno, 1993
Jitka Hanáková: Edice českého samizdatu 1972-1991, Praha 1997
Jiří Gruntorád - Jana Lifková: Informace o Chartě 77: Článková bibliografie 1978-1990 [Information about Charter 77: An Article Bibliography 1978-1990], Brno 1998
Blahoslav Dokoupil: Slovník českých literárních časopisů, periodických literárních sborníků a almanachů 1945-2000 [A Dictionary of Czech Literary Journals, Periodical Literary Anthologies and Almanachs], Brno 2002
Vladimír Kouřil: Jazzová sekce v čase a nečase 1971-1987 [Jazz Section in Good Times and Bad Times 1971-1987], Praha 1999
Anna Vanicek: Underground Rock Music in Czechoslovakia 1968- 1989, York University, Ontario, Canada, 1997. 
Gordon Skilling: Samizdat and Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe, London, Macmillan 1989 
Jiří Brabec, Jiří Gruša, Igor Hájek, Petr Kabeš, Jan Lopatka: Slovník českých spisovatelů 1948-1979 [A Dictionary of Czech Writers 1948-1979]. Sixty-Eight Publishers, Toronto, 1982
Pavel Janoušek, ed.: Slovník českých spisovatelů od roku 1945 [A Dictionary of Czech Writers since 1945], Praha 1995, 1998
Jiří Holý et alii: Česká literatura od počátků ke dnešku [Czech Literature from its Beginnings up to this Day], Praha 2000
Lubomír Machala et alii: Panorama české literatury [A Panoramic View of Czech Literature], Olomouc 1994
Jiří Trávníček: Poezie poslední možnosti [Last Chances of Poetry], Praha 1996
Gertraude Zand: Totální realismus a trapná poesie. Česká neoficiální literatura 1948-1953, Brno 2002 
Gertraude Zand: Totaler Realismus und Peinliche Poesie. Tschechische Untergrund-Literatur 1948-1953, Wien, Peter Lang Verlag 1998
Alena Nádvorníková: K surrealismu [Towars Surrealism], Praha 1998
Martin Pilař: Underground. Kapitoly o českém literáním undergroundu [Underground. Chapters on Czech Literary Underground], Brno 1999
Josef Alan et alii: Alternativní kultura. Příběh české společnosti 1945-1989 [Alternative Culture. A Story of Czech Society 1945-1989], Praha 2001
 
 
 
Martin Machovec, Prague 
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articles - A Brief Report on Present Knowledge of Czech Samizdat Phenomena 1948-1989