The term samizdat, now widespread, denotes the unofficial dissemination of any variety of text (book, magazine, leaflet, etc.) within “totalitarian” political systems, especially those after World War II. Such publishing, though often not explicitly forbidden by law, was always punishable through the misuse of a variety of laws under various pretexts. It occurred first in the Soviet Union as early as the 1920s, before the term was used, and then, labeled as such, from the 1950s onward. While samizdat publication occurred in Czechoslovakia after 1948, the word itself was used there only from the 1970s on. This article seeks to clarify the term and the phenomenon of samizdat with regard to the Czech literary scene to trace its historical limits and the justification for it. I will first describe the functions of Czech samizdat during the four decades of the totalitarian regime (1948–89), that is, examine it as a nonstatic, developing phenomenon, and then I will offer criteria by which to classify it. Such texts are classifiable by motivations for publishing and distributing samizdat; the originator; traditionally recognized types of printed material; date of production and of issuance, if different; textual content; occurrence in the chronology of political and cultural events under the totalitarian regime; and type of technology used in production. The applicability of such criteria is tested against the varied samizdat activities of the Czech poet and philosopher Egon Bondy.

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