WHO KNOWS WHAT the word Samizdat means? The odds are great that the average American has no idea. To begin with, there are several marks against it: it’s Russian and therefore written in a non-Western alphabet, for those who do know the language it harkens back to a depressing era many would rather forget, and most of us would rather pretend such a thing cannot exist in the 21st Century.
Since, this post requires a healthy dose of that dreaded thing called history, perhaps it is best to start off with something a little more appealing to our pop-culture. You know, things like the zombie apocalypse, teenagers fighting to the death in Hunger Games, and other such light fare. It still amazes me that middle age women love both The Walking Dead and Dowton Abbey with equal fervor. That subject is for a different day so please, no hate tweets, comments or email.
Post-apocalyptic fiction is devoured these days by every age group. It also has left traditional publishers scrambling to catch up with self-published authors like Hugh Howey and another interesting guy by the name of Michael Bunker. It is in the forward to his fan fiction addition to Hugh Howey’s world of Wool that I came across that word I haven’t seen since my college days.
Samizdat (Russian: самизда́т; IPA: [səmɨzˈdat]) 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. Wikipedia
Unfortunately, the word and the concept behind it is not the invention of some cloistered guy pounding out pulp fiction that may or may not pay the bills. During the 1950s and 1960s, those who opposed the Communist party wrote underground literature that too often cost them their freedom and at times their lives. Collectively, their writings were called you guess it – Samizdat.
While my generation was taking part in duck-and-cover drills (something that never made a lot sense to a third grader like me) these brave thinkers and writers risked everything by putting their thoughts on paper. The year before I graduated high school Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Samizdat book The Gulag Archipelagomade its way to the Western world. For a brief time he was lauded as a hero here in America, but was quickly forgotten because what he had to say was neither comfortable nor popular.
Today, anyone can publish just about anything for next to nothing. Judging by some of the books I’ve attempted to read, that may not be such a good thing. But consider the alternative. The English Reformation was driven by one man who dared to make the Bible available in the people’s language. William Tyndale, while fluent in eight languages risked all to give the common man and woman something they could read for themselves.
When accused of heresy, Tyndale replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the scriptures than you!” He was later imprisoned for over 500 days, tried for heresy and burnt at the stake in 1536. Tyndale died because he believed truth can speak for itself.
This is one reason, I urge us all to learn the word, Samizdat. No one need fear words on paper. Truth can stand on its own. That is why it is called truth.
Michael Bunker is a bestselling author, off-gridder, husband, and father of four children. He lives with his family in a “plain” community in Central Texas, where he reads and writes books…and occasionally tilts at windmills. He is the author of the WICK series, The Silo Archipelago, the Amish/Sci-Fi work Pennsylvania, as well as many nonfiction works, including the bestseller Surviving Off Off-Grid.