Valerii Mishin, Poėt i gladiator [detail]


Free Voices in the USSR and Echoes in the West (1953-1991) is a joint research project involving the University of Florence and the University of Pisa, directed by Professor Claudia Pieralli and Professor Marco Sabbatini.

The project is conceived both as a research tool for students, doctoral students, researchers, scholars and professors, and as a platform that hosts and implements the results of new research, which is placed within the epistemological and conceptual framework proposed in this portal.

The project aims to explore expressions of independent thought and culture in the Soviet Union between the end of Stalinism in 1953 and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The concept of dissent within the Soviet Union has often been distorted to suit narratives attractive to Western commentators, who have focused on voices opposing Communist Party ideology. This is a simplification as many alternative voices from this period express a non-conformity which is aesthetic or social rather than political. The artists and writers behind nonconformist actions and words frequently saw their alternative forms of expression as a protest of some sort, but they did not speak with one voice.  Indeed, not only are there significant generational differences, but also different literary, artistic and philosophical points of view and premises.

As the process of destalinisation initiated by Khrushchev began to stall and promises of greater freedom evaporated, independent voices were increasingly viewed as hostile and censored by Soviet institutions. Expressions of dissent became louder from the mid 1970s and in the following decade an alternative cultural scene emerged. Thanks to the samizdat network, this ‘Second Culture’ represented an organised, systematic opposition to official Soviet culture. The third wave of cultural emigration helped keep channels of communication with the West open and gave impetus to the publication of Russian works beyond the Iron Curtain (tamizdat). The clandestine circulation of almanacs, literary reviews, single works and collections began to spread from Moscow and Leningrad to smaller towns and cities. Seminars, exhibitions, conferences and lectures were organised in places and ways that were autonomous and parallel to those endorsed by official Soviet institutions. With the advent of glasnost under Gorbachev in the 1980s, alternative voices began to come into the open and many exponents of independent thought were involved in the new processes of democratisation.

The project Free Voices in the USSR is a work in progress and as such is in constant evolution. Such a project cannot hope to be exhaustive given the vast and heterogeneous galaxy that was cultural dissent in the USSR and its complex reception beyond the Iron Curtain in the West. We do, however, consider it fundamental to offer a schematic description and in this portal we hope to present and make accessible an epistemic-ontological definition of dissent, based on the premise that to scientifically describe the nature of a cultural phenomenon, is to define what the phenomenon is.

The website is designed to enable the user (be they an expert in the field or approaching the subject for the first time) to consider Soviet dissent both as a unique phenomenon and as a phenomenal typology within the overall syntax of Soviet and European culture in the second half of the twentieth century.