Samizdat Collection at Petőfi Literary Museum (PLM)
Budapest Károlyi utca 16, Hungary 1053
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Provenance and cultural activities
The Museum started to collect samizdat in the early 1980s. György Gadó, a member of the democratic opposition, came to offer the new publications every month. Especially with the arrival of archivist Csaba Nagy to the Department of Manuscripts in 1983, collecting samizdat became a regular practice. Nagy himself was interested in reading clandestine publications: previously he had done research in the Closed Stack of Publications in the National Széchényi Library, and he was a keen reader of samizdat materials. He did not visit samizdat shops, like the Rajk boutique, but bought or borrowed samizdat publications from his friends. He also circulated his own copies among interested acquaintances. After a while, he brought what he had acquired to the National Library and later to PLM. Samizdat publications were generally not available to the public. They were kept in the close stack, and it was practically impossible even to know of their existence unless somebody knew that such materials were available for research in the Museum. Even then, special permission was needed to consult such holdings. Interviewees could recall no reader ever having asked for access to their samizdat collection. Not every samizdat ended up in the closed stack, though. Some of them, for example George Orwell’s Animal Farm, was registered as part of the regular collection, because it was claimed that the novel was not a form of direct political agitation.
The director of the Museum at the time, literary historian Ferenc Botka was a committed communist with absolutely no intention to represent or support any oppositional activity, but he tacitly agreed to this practice. He was convinced that the duty of a public collection was to preserve the full scale of publications in Hungarian, so he raised no objections. As Mészáros remembered, Botka was not entirely consistent in this respect, since he refused to keep some of the materials and did not allow systematic collection of far-right underground publications. Without Botka, however, collecting samizdat might have been risky business. While Botka’s authority in the Party provided a shield for Csaba Nagy and his colleagues for such activities, it divided the leadership of the Museum. Some protested against holding samizdat publications or at least samizdat publications like Mindszenty’s recollections, which were published in Toronto, including a head of department. Files from the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security reveal that literary historian László Szekeres, an employee of PLM, regularly informed the secret police about the samizdat collection and the distributor, György Gadó.The actual size of the samizdat collection was revealed only after the change of regimes, when Csaba Nagy and his colleagues organized an exhibition of the materials. People then realized that the collection was one of the most significant samizdat collections in the country. This part of the former Closed Stack collection is now part of the regular collection. It is not treated as a separate thematic collection. One can search for the keyword samizdat in the online catalogue.
Description of content
This collection contains samizdat journals, books, leaflets, and other types of printed materials written between 1981 and the change of regimes. Most of the books are from the AB Független underground publishing house.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 10-99
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 10-99
Date of founding
Place of founding
Budapest, Károlyi utca 16, 1053 Magyarország
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Important events in the history of the collection
- completely open to the public
- Nagy, Csaba. A magyarországi szamizdat bibliográfiája: 1981-1989. Budapest: Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum, 1990.
Author(s) of this page
- Scheibner, Tamás
Nagy, Csaba , interview by Scheibner, Tamás, November 24, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Mészáros, Tibor , Bánki, Zsolt , interview by Scheibner, Tamás, December 08, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Varga, Katalin , Mészáros, Tibor , Bánki, Zsolt , interview by Scheibner, Tamás, June 29, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection
Hetényi, Zsuzsa , interview by Scheibner, Tamás, May 24, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection