Valerii Mishin, Poėt i gladiator [detail]


The project focuses on two principal themes, “Free Voices in the Soviet Union” and “The Reception of Soviet Dissent in the West”. The first presents the diverse manifestations of independent culture and dissent in the USSR between 1953 and 1991, while the second traces the history of the reception of Soviet dissent and underground culture in intellectual circles in the West.

Each theme is subdivided into three sections.

FREE VOICES IN THE SOVIET UNION is divided into the sections: “Samizdat and non-official artistic expression”, “Underground places and groups”, “Facts and Phenomena”:

  1. “Samizdat and non-official artistic expression”: this section is dedicated to analysing the language of artistic dissent as well as the strategies of survival employed by participants in the ‘Second Culture’. Attention is given to all mediums of alternative artistic expression including verbal and literary (especially literature produced by the samizdat network), music and songs circulating thanks to magnitizdat, painting and sculpture, independent cinema, photography, theatre and the performing arts. For this reason, the section is further divided into three categories – each of them referring to a specific artistic language: literature/samizdat, audio texts/magnitizdat, and figurative and visual arts.
  2. “Underground places and groups”: this section presents a map of the principal centres of non-official culture and describes the most important protagonists of the Soviet underground. It is organised geographically, focusing on Moscow and Leningrad, but covering the whole of the Soviet Union.
  3. “Facts and phenomena”: this section concentrates on the social dimension of clandestine culture, examining the ways in which non-authorised, alternative forms of expression reached the public. It looks at the rare manifestations present in authorized publications, and mainly at underground seminars, circles, exhibitions, celebrations, festivals and concerts. Special attention is given to the civil rights movement, open protest letters and protest marches in favour of individuals tried for dissent.

THE RECEPTION OF SOVIET DISSENT IN THE WEST is divided into the sections: “Tamizdat”, “Case studies”, “Italian Publications and Catalogues”.

  1. “Tamizdat”: this section describes the principal literary works circulating in Russian and in translation via the tamizdat network, which unlike the parallel samizdat system, operated through publishing houses and journals in the West. The network represented a bridge between independent voices in the Soviet Union and intellectuals in the West.
  2. “Case studies”: this section focuses in more detail on works such as Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn that are emblematic of the cultural and mediatic impact of Russian literature and art beyond the Iron Curtain.
  3. “Italian publications and catalogues”: this section presents the principal Italian publishers involved in disseminating Soviet cultural discourse which were important for the reception and distribution of alternative Soviet voices in Italy and beyond. Attention is given to the activity and archives of the most important publishing houses and cultural reviews.  We hope to offer a framework for reconstructing the debate on Soviet dissent in Italy.


Our portal has three research tools aimed at giving students reference points in space and time as well as information on the men and women who helped establish channels for cultural exchange and dialogue between the USSR and the West:

Where: a list of the major centres and geographical areas relating to the section “Free voices in the Soviet Union”.

Chronology: an overview of the period 1953-1991 in the West and the USSR with descriptions of the most relevant historical events for independent Soviet culture, connecting the evolution of dissent inside the Soviet Union with its reception in the West.

People: a list of the most influential figures of the Soviet Union’s ‘Second Culture’ and the Western intellectuals who helped disseminate their voices beyond the USSR.