Exhibition of Samizdat opens at National Museum

05-06-2002

In modern European history, Samizdat - the writing, printing and distribution of literature that was suppressed and banned by the censors during Communism - represented a mass struggle for freedom that was often punished with years of imprisonment and even death. A major exhibition documenting this struggle will open at the National Museum in Prague on Thursday, called "Samizdat - Alternative Culture in Central and Eastern Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s". Dita Asiedu was at an early viewing of the exhibition:

And that is where I met Dr. Milena Nyklova, a former activist in Samizdat in Communist Czechoslovakia:

"This exposition is for me very interesting because I know and knew many people who did Samizdat, who painted the pictures and so on and I was here and I wrote these Samizdat too so I have my own experience with it. It was very dangerous. But what is more interesting is that there are not only Czech documents but also from Moscow and from Poland because I never saw anything from there."

The exhibition was organised by the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen in co-operation with the National Museum and the Czechoslovak Documentation Centre in Prague. In many years of collecting various Samizdat publications in post-Communist countries, Dr. Ivo Bock who is one of the curators of the exhibition has found interesting differences in the way Samizdat developed in the various countries involved:

"As far as the appearance of the material is concerned, it's totally different. For instance in Czech Samizdat, you had regular numbered editions of books - there were several dozens of such editions. They looked like books and only when you opened them you saw that they were machine written, whereas in the Soviet Union you had very simple production. On the other hand, you have Poland and Hungary where you had printed material, which was not possible in the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia because they didn't have such production means."

Until August 25th, visitors will be able to see for themselves what Samizdat looked like and how it differed in the various Communist countries. One very visual and expressive example of Samizdat from Hungary is Miklos Haraszti's book called "Velvet Prison", also known as "The Aesthetics of Censorship". The book's designer who is also the designer and architect of the exhibition, Laszlo Rajk, explained to Dita Asiedu what Velvet Prison was about:

D.A.: "So you've designed the book cover in black, red and white. It has a bulky person who looks like he's been skinned - all you see is muscle - and he's got his head cut open with his brain out in front of him on a table and he's using a piece of wood to squash the brain!"

L.R.: "I think it represents one phenomenon that everyone knows - censorship. But there is another phenomenon and that is when you start to censor yourself. The self-censorship is even more dangerous than the censorship because self-censorship means that you have really become a part of the system and you don't exist anymore and you're just someone who is really just a gray little part of this whole system, which is not acceptable."

05-06-2002