Sinanovič kept the leaflets produced by the Prague cell in the period 1971–76 to document its activity, and thus he is considered as the founder of the Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague collection.
Sinanovič was a labourer by profession and thus was not suspected of having been the leaflets’ author as he was not highly educated. As he was the least suspicious among Yugoslav Cominformists in Prague, being a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and a Czechoslovak citizen, at the time, the leaflets were considered to be the most secure with him.
In 2011, Sinanovič handed the collection over to the Czech historian Ondřej Vojtěchovský.
- Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
Andrei Siniavskii was born on October 8, 1925 in Moscow. His father Donat Evgeniyevych Siniavskii was a former noble turned professional revolutionary and left SR. Donat Evgeniyevych also had a talent for writing poems, plays, stories and novels. He was arrested in 1924 and again in 1950, like many others he was pardoned and rehabilitated after Stalin's death in 1953.
Andrei Siniavskii came of age during the Second World War and the last years of Josef Stalin’s rule. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, Siniavskii was evacuated with his mother to Syzran. He was drafted into the army in 1943 at the age of 17, undergoing a year and a half of training at the Moscow Aviation School, which had also been relocated to Syzran. Siniavskii returned to Moscow when the aviation school was moved back to the capital, serving as a radio technician at an airfield outside Moscow during the last year of the war. After demobilization, Siniavskii enrolled in Moscow University to study literature during the heyday of Socialist Realism, experiencing firsthand the cultural crackdown initiated by Andrei Zhdanov in 1946.
As a student of literature at Moscow University, Siniavskii became acquainted with Hélène Peltier-Zamoyska. whose father was a French Naval attaché. Beginning in 1956, Zamoyska brought the first works written under the pseudonym Abram Tertz out of the Soviet Union and arranged for their publication abroad. De-Stalinization under Nikita Khrushchev's leadership had a significant impact on Siniavskii and other writers of his generation. Siniavskii, in particular, believed Soviet society could return to the creative rigor initially unleashed by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which had been stymied by the introduction of Socialist Realism in 1934. Siniavski’s On Socialist Realism criticized the very foundations of this doctrine, which attempted to apply the artistic and literary styles of 19th Century Russian realism in order to propagate the ideology and political and social aims of the Soviet Union’s ruling party. Russian realism was inward looking, full of skepticism, doubt and irony. As Max Hayward wrote in his introduction to the transcripts of the trial of Siniavskii and Yuli Daniel from 1966, “the great realist writers—who the socialist realists of the Soviet Union were supposed to emulate—had no sense of purpose, but were engaged rather in an anguished quest for the answer to apparently unanswerable ontological questions—not to speak of the more mundane social and political ones.” As such, socialist realism was a literary vehicle entirely unsuited for the Soviet Union, a teleological polity driven by revolutionary purpose.
Siniavskii’s early works written under the pseudonym of Abram Terts—On Socialist Realism and its companion piece The Trial Begins—challenged the hegemony of Socialist Realism by exposing this "formal incoherence." Tertz repudiates the basic idea that art and literature should be handmaidens of social activism, by denying literature’s ability, and vocation, to define reality or transform it. Catherine Nepomnyashchy notes that these texts were "the writer's declaration of independence, his escape from the Soviet canon." In both texts, Siniavskii/Tertz subverts the conventions of Socialist Realism "by calling into question the existence of a single defining center and this the authority of authorial voice."
Siniavskii insisted that his quarrel with the regime was never political, but aesthetic. Nonetheless, he and his fellow artists and writers fell out of favor soon after Nikita Khrushchev’s ouster as General Secretary in 1964. He was arrested in 1965 for the dissemination of anti-Soviet propaganda in 1965 and was imprisoned in the Lubianka and Lefortovo prisons. His 1966 trial highlighted the faulty premises of his conflict with the authorities. He was charged with Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code, or “the dissemination of slanderous fabrication which defame the Soviet government and social system for the purposes if undermining or weakening Soviet power.” Throughout the trial Siniavskii maintained that it was impossible to conduct a legal investigation of an artistic text as one could not “define the meaning of an artistic work juridically and unequivocally.” Even so, Siniavskii was sentenced to seven years of hard labor. He served part of that sentence in Potma (Mordovia) labor camps, but was released early, returning to Moscow in 1973 and emigrating shortly thereafter to Paris, France.
- Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010 USA
András Sipos is the main archivist and head of department of the Budapest City Archives (BCA). He studied history, archival studies, and modern and contemporary historical museology at the Faculty of humanities of Eötvös Loránd University. He completed his PhD in 1995. He started his career in 1988 at his current workplace as an archivist. Since 2006, he was worked as the head of the Documentation Department No. 1. His research on the turn of the century and the first half of 20th century is of decisive importance. Thanks his efforts, an agreement was reached between the online photo collection Fortepan and BCA: the photographs received by Fortepan are sent to the BCA collection after digitization, thus ensuring the long-term survival of the material.
- Budapest, Hungary
Václav Sisel was a Czech printer. In the 1950s, Sisel was employed as a technical chief in the Pankrác Prison print shop. It was there, in 1953, that he met convicted writers Josef Knap, František Křelina, and Jan Zahradníček. According to Zdeněk Kalista, Czech historian, poet, and former prisoner, Václav Sisel was “very decent and significantly different from the other guards at Pankrác Prison”. Sisel concealed Jan Zahradníčekʼs poetry manuscripts, written illegally in the print shop. In 1955, when Sisel was dismissed from the print shop, he smuggled Zahradníčekʼs poems out and buried them, first in his fatherʼs garden and later in the garden of his own cottage. Sisel dug them out in March 1968 and gave them to František Křelina and Josef Knap.
- Praha, Prague, Czech Republic
Krzysztof Skiba (1964) was born in Gdańsk as a son of a high in ranks sailor and an architect. In 1983 he co-founded the Alternative Society Movement – the first anarchist organization in Poland after the World War II. In the same year, he finished high school education in Gdańsk and moved to Łódź, where he became a student of cultural studies at Łódź University and joined the team of student theatre Pstrąg. Next years he spent traveling between Gdańsk where he had still participated in anarchist activities and Łódź where he acquired knowledge about avant-garde art, alternative theatres, and culture theories. In 1985 he got arrested and consequently imprisoned for three months for spreading the anarchist leaflets on a rock festival in Jarocin. After that Skiba could no longer take part in secret, anonymous operations of anarchists, so he entered the anti-militarist and mostly pacifist Freedom and Peace movement, proclaimed in 1986 as an illegal and unofficial, but open and public opposition. He became also a student culture animator in student club Balbina, where he organized rock concerts, neo-avant-garde exhibitions, poetry performances, and theatre plays. For example, in 1988 he was a curator of an international art mail show in Balbina. Together with his colleagues from cultural studies, as well as Independent Students’ Union in Łódź, in 1988 Skiba established two groups: punk cabaret Big Cyc and the Gallery of Maniacal Activities specializing in street happenings and inspired by Wrocław’s Orange Alternative movement. Till the year 1990, when Gallery of Maniacal Activities came to an end, the radical group performed a few outrageous happenings, harshly critical about both the government and the opposition’s elites gathered around the Round Table. In 1989-1990 Skiba turned into a popular musician, showman, and satirist, while his younger colleagues from the Gallery of Maniacal Activities formed performance group Wspólnota Leeeżeć. Nowadays Skiba still performs on a stage with Big Cyc, as well as writes opinion pieces, small stories, and memoirs.
As an anarchist Krzysztof Skiba did not think too much about collecting items related to the underground and oppositional activities. He insisted in the interview that the anarchists had been focused on direct action, here and now, with negligence of any documentation and archiving. In fact it was unsafe to collect such materials in one’s home or in a student house, as in Skiba’s case. Moreover, after Skiba had been exposed as a dissent activist, he was under the systematic control of the secret police. But when he became a student culture animator in club Balbina, he created there a quiet place for alternative culture projects, even unofficial and illegal ones (like street happenings). Skiba participated in mail art exchange and the third circuit, and his address in the student house was well-known among other artists, activists, animators, promoters. Consequently, Skiba became an owner of a huge archive of art zines, fanzines, papers, leaflets, letters, and other items sent to or shared with him.
After the transition to capitalism Skiba did not care much about his archive, keeping it in cardboard boxes in his house in Gdańsk. Although in the recent years Skiba donated one part of the collection to the European Solidarity Centre and the other part to the KARTA Centre Foundation, he has got still about one thousand items.
Krzysztof Skiba was far from participating in strikes organized by ‘Solidarity’ union or in patriotic masses in churches. Indeed, happenings carried on by Gallery of Maniacal Activities were strongly sarcastic about the union’s leaders who sat together with the government around the Round Table. But in spite of this criticism, ‘Solidarity’ printers released Skiba’s zine ‘Przegięcie Pały’ and a few times the union paid the fees for arrested participants of the happenings.
Krzysztof Skiba, ‘Komisariat naszym domem. Pomarańczowa historia’, Warsaw: Narodowe Centrum Kultury, 2015.
- Gdańsk, Poland