The Russian term samizdat originally referred to self-published literature that was forbidden by or at least unavailable in the Soviet state, circulated through unofficial channels, and represented certain views that were alternative to the official ideology of that state. Sometimes, in the Soviet Union itself, the term samizdat was used in a broader sense, to mean diverse phenomena of unofficial cultural production—not necessarily of literary origin or dissident politics. In this broader sense, the term may be used to describe music samizdat (also known as magnitizdat), cinematic samizdat (also known as parallel'noe kino—parallel cinema), artistic samizdat, and so forth. This essay considers samizdat in this broader sense, focusing on two examples of cinematic and artistic samizdat that emerged in Leningrad in the early 1980s. Although these cases in point existed unofficially and represented alternative political views, they cannot be qualified as oppositional or “dissident” in the traditional sense of the term. In the early 1980s, when these unofficial artistic groups first emerged, they were relatively small and unknown. However, by the end of the decade, when the Soviet state experienced political crisis and suddenly collapsed, these two groups achieved phenomenal fame in Russia. They became popularly associated with the period of “late socialism” in the 1970s–1980s, before the collapse of the Soviet state was yet imaginable. This is why the essay first describes a certain new attitude to Soviet life that was emerging in the early 1980s among young urbanites in Leningrad and then proceeds to discuss the two artistic groups that developed in that context.

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