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Censorship in European Communist States

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Censorship was a widespread practice in much of the 20th century even across democratic regimes in the world. However, the scale of censorship, its extent, its systematic nature, and the grave repercussions experienced for not obeying its rules turned it into a key instrument for maintaining political power under Communism. "Double speech" was its alpha and omega. Communist regimes often employed leftist humanitarian vocabulary to veil and even justify institutionalized state-level repression that was, in turn, not allowed to be criticized, or only to a very limited extent. Citizens were forced to code their critical messages and developed practices of self-censorship to avoid harassment. The objective of this module is to introduce students to such practices, and make them aware how the level of censorship varied in the different countries and decades. By digging into the COURAGE Registry, students will discover a variety of strategies to circumvent state censorship.

Readings

Compulsory
  • Darnton, R. (1995). Censorship, a Comparative View: France, 1789-East Germany, 1989. Representations, (49), 40–60. https://doi.org/10.2307/2928748
  • Boyer, D. (2003). Censorship as a Vocation: The Institutions, Practices, and Cultural Logic of Media Control in the German Democratic Republic. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 45(03). https://doi.org/10.1017/S0010417503000240
  • Šmejkalová, J. (2001). Censors and Their Readers: Selling, Silencing, and Reading Czech Books. Libraries & Culture, 36(1,), 87–103. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25548893
  • Jones, S. (2011). Introduction. In Complicity, Censorship and Criticism: Negotiating Space in the GDR Literary Sphere (pp. 1–31). Berlin: De Gruyter.
Recommended

Featured Items from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Related Collections from COURAGE Registry (selection)

Assignments

In-class or short-term assignments
1) Browse the recommended items from the COURAGE Registry and consult the assigned readings: make a list of keywords of Party-defined "ideological fallacies" that were not tolerated by censorship. Discuss their meaning in class!

2) Find a film and a literary work that were banned or censored in a country in Eastern Europe under Communism. (Items included in the COURAGE Registry do not count.) Why were these censored?

3) Collaborate with your classmates in small groups of 3-4: try to map the institutions responsible for censorship in Communist Eastern Europe. Compare the lists you made in class and discuss how those institutions contributed to censorship.
Offsite, longer-term assignments

Run a filtered search in the COURAGE Registry, and identify archives relevant to the topic of censorship in your geographic area. If these are too far away to visit, consult with your professor and local librarians to find out where such materials could be located that you are able to access. What sort of collections could you identify? When was the collection established, by whom, and why? Are there any similarities with the provenance of the Eastern European collections included in the COURAGE Registry?

Discussion

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