year on end, Europe, the birthplace of the nation-states with their international
marketed 'national' cultures has been the locus of a different kind of
international cultural exchange
the restrictions of nationality
bother about power blocks
Opening words of a manifesto circulated during the years 1987-1988 all
over Europe in ten different languages. A call to persons, groups and
bodies considering themselves 'alternative', 'independent', 'radical'
to take part in the first European self-presentation of publishers, distributors
and others involved in the circulation of 'information carriers'.
Products to be on show: posters, books, periodicals, records, cassettes,
film, video, watchwords: break down the usual barriers separating disciplines
such as visual arts, music, theatre, film; stimulate multidisciplinary
approaches; multiplication of multiple themes. Political, minority, cultural,
emancipatory issues were to be shown as interconnected.
The manifesto does not end with the usual call to unite around the common
flag but encourages pluriformity: "the presentation of a wide spectrum
click green bullet to jump to the full text of the manifesto as issued
click red bullet for link to archives of the Foundation Europe Against
The Current at the International Institute of Social History
not consider here the event as it took place in the Amsterdam 'Beurs van
Berlage' building in september 1989 enlivened by exhibitions, concerts
and performances (2) but rather concentrate
on the genesis of the idea and the connections it has with the changes
that are taking place in the relations between Eastern and Western Europe.
An instant in point of the development in the thinking in the West is
the alternative press in Western Germany. It developed in the beginning
of the sixties from what was then called 'Minipresse' (Small presses)
and initially was predominantly literay. By the end of the sixties these
activities merged with 'pirate printing' no(t) (longer) available works
of authors like Adorno, Horkheimer and Reich, that became also the spiritual
food of the nascent student movement.
Criticisms of the developing 'manipulative mass culture' inspired direct
action such as the blockade of the buildings of the publishing firm Springer
in West Berlin in 1968 but also into the setting up of independent publishing
bodies, which started mainly with magazines but later on also brought
out pamphlets and books. Alongside the leftish student press there developed
also a press of the 'cultural underground' that showed its being different
not only by the contents of its publications but also by their deviating
form. The publishing landscape that came about in the course of the last
twenty-five years could be described as: small, independent, democratic,
left, radical, countercultural, alternative (3).
At the moment the number of 'alternative' periodicals coming out in the
Federal Republic amount to eight-nine hundred with printruns of between
a thousand and several tens of thousands. The highest is that of the West
Berlin 'Stadtmagazin Zitty' with a printrun of one hundred thousand which
means that in that city more copies are sold of this local magazine than
of 'Der Spiegel'. What makes a publication 'alternative' under such circumstances
? The regional alternative periodicals (Provinzblätter) are printed
in around a thousand copies.
To define a demarcation line between what is alternative and what is not
becomes particularly difficult in the case of the publishing houses. About
a hundred -hundred-fifty- publishers that may be described as alternative
bring out a total of a thousand to one thousand three hundred new titles
The print runs go from around three thousand to not less than thirty thousand
copies. 'Established left' publishers (Wagenbach, Rotbuch, Eichborn) with
yearly trade figures exceeding half a million of Deutschmarks justify
the designation 'alternative' only by the contents of some of their publications
"Stimulate the free and independent exchange of information in Europe
across the borders of the nation-states" was the aim of the Foundation
Europe Against the Current that we launched in 1987. Now in 1990, the
lack of understanding and the objections we had to cope with initially
when seeking funds for the event have become hardly imaginable.
After two year of seeking funds with only a few positive results we decided
yet to take the risk and to try to realize our 'maximum programme' with
a minimal budget.
Our manifesto said the Europe extended from the Urals to Iceland and from
the North Cape to Gibraltar but several 'European' bodies whom we approached
for funds still maintained then that Europe meant 'only the countries
of the European Community' and 'definitely not Eastern Europe'.
Still more difficult to believe for the national and international bodies
we approached for grants was our observation of the existence of a flourishing
alternative culture in Eastern Europe similar to that in the West. Did
not everybody know that over there was only grey grim oppression ?
In itself there was nothing new in our idea: "In order to define the real
dissidence it may be time for us in the West to put an end to our habit
of just lending some formal support to a few heroic personalities come
from the USSR or from Eastern Europe or still living there. It is time
to create a common basis for an understanding and active support of dissidence
the world over".
A quotation from David Cooper's 'Qui sont les dissidents ?' published
in 1977. Cooper compares "the subtle censorship and mystification in the
mass media and the educational process" of the West with the oppresive
methods used in the East. He attacks the intellectual laziness of those
who shout "Gulag! Gulag!" but are blind for the "megagulag of the West".
He agrees that "not-thinking" is a "prominent product of bureaucratic
socialism" but ist is equally "the price demanded by all the capytalist
A striking fact was that the oppositionist generation in the East with
which we got in touch by the end of the eighties was very determined in
their dismissal of the designation 'dissident'. That term had too much
to do with the cold war. The preferred and still prefer the word 'independent'.
In 1985, in the wake of the Helsinki accords, government representatives
from East and West met at an international conference 'The Cultural Forum'.
Almost all the European states as well as the United States and Cananda
spoke there about 'free cultural exchange'. The image of the culture to
be exchanged was traditional and unidimensional, however.
Alongside this official Forum an 'Alternative Forum' was held in Budapest,
organized by the Hungarian opposition and tolerated by the Kádár
regime walking on its last legs. In a short text for this Forum Susan
Sontag wrote: "Culture having the characteristics of a living being consists
of many parts. A culture that is only one thing -as all ideas about culture
monopolized by the State, any State- is a negation of culture (5).
This Alternative Forum was one of the sources of inspiration for 'Europe
Against the Current'. Other sources of inspiration were international
book fairs, in particular the Frankfurt Book Fair, the alternative 'Gegenbuchmesse'
held along side with it for about ten years, and the 'Black, Radical and
Third World Book Fair' in London. We dreamed of a combination of the positive
elements of these fairs without these disadvantages resulting in a new
inspiring whole: -of the Frankfurt Book Fair its truly internationalism,
its multiplicity of subjects and standpoints without its banalities and
sheer commercial aspect, -of the Gegenbuchmesse and the other alternative
fairs the low commercial profile, the informal atmosphere without the
tendencies in these circles to limit participation to people who share
the views of the organizers.
The East European participation had no precedent except for the representatives
of exile-publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, mostly Czechs, Slowaks,
Croats, mostly of extremely conservative kind. In october 1981, shortly
before Jaruzelski's putsch the official Frankfurt Book Fair housed the
first tiny stand of Polish samizdat publishers hidden far away from the
official Polish stand in the huge halls of the 'Messe'. The publications
on show there, graphically powerfull in spite of the extremely simple
means used, breathed a different atmosphere, evoked associations with
the 'cultural underground' in Western Europe and North America in the
sixties and seventies. (6).
sixties and seventies Eastern Europe knew phenomena that were directly
connected with the cultural underground movement in the West but little
transpired of the direct contacts and information about them was scarce.
In the years 1965-1967 there were happenings in Prague in which the 'Aktúal'
group and one Milan Knizak played a role and about which some contacts
have existed with the international Fluxus as well as with Amsterdam Provo
Young Czechs who were excluded from rigorously reglemented cultural life
in their country because of their social origins, their insufficient education
or conflicts with the school system, started setting up their own bands,
created 'their own independent world outside the framework of the corrupt
famous group were the 'Plastic People of the Universe' who performed in
the beginning of the seventies, mostly illegally, and were among the causes
of the foundation of Charta-77 because of the persecution of which they
were the object (7).
Worldwide protest movements, such as those in 1968, found some echo in
the Eastern countries, in particular in Yugoslavia, where in Belgrade,
in June 1968 students occupied the university and attacked the 'socialist
bureaucrats'. During the confrontations that took place in Prague in the
same year between inhabitants and Russian troops one Western journalist
was struck by the similarity in style: "People used hippie methods -they
put flowers on helmets and in rifle barrels. For the Russians that is
Equally 'frenzy' methods, directed now against 'the country's own occupying
army' appear seven years later in Wroclaw and other Polish cities, when
Polish 'dwarfs' (similar to the Dutch 'kabouter' movement of the beginning
of the seventies) under the name of 'Pomaranczowa Alternatywa' ridiculize
Jaruzelski's military dictatorship with carnivalesque street happenings,
playfull graffitti and disarm it (9).
In a contribution written in 1989 for 'Europe Against the Current' young
art historian Mikhail Trofimenkov from Leningrad mentions the group 'Neo-eklektika',
poets who on the one hand feel close to the hippy movement, studied the
ideas of the 1968 movement, read Godard, Marcuse and Sontag, and on the
other hand declared themselves 'post-avantgardists' and applied methods
such as collage and 'ironical tautology'. The roots of this 'new counter
culture' Trofimenkov sees in poet and fiction writer Edward Limonov's
cult book "Edichka -that's me" written and published in exile at the end
of the seventies and situating its story in the fringe districts of New
York, apart from a few flash backs to Kharkov and Moscow (10).
In his quality of Russian exile Limonov is confronted with the less pleasant
aspects of freedom. The image this picture evokes of the incorrigible
rebel, of the man who rejects any system, who sees no difference between
the political structures of the USSR and the USA, together with the very
straightforward description of sexuality, homo as well as hetero, appealed
strongly to the young generation born during the second half of the fifties.
On the eve of Perestroika cultural free spaces are created through 'jumbo
exhibitions' in buildings awaiting demolition or renovation, where the
inner walls become temporary paintings. Blocks of houses are squatted
and turned into art galleries, workshops and alternative clubs. The prosecution
of samizdat publication lessens or stops altogether, better technical
equipment is acquired. Many 'underground' writers find their way to legal
publications such as the Latvian review 'Rodnik'. Trofimenkov concludes:
"It is possible nowadays in the Soviet Union to live undisturbed in the
new undergroudn rejecting both the conservative and the reformist (pro-Perestroika)
The image of solitary resistance such as described as late as in 1977
by Russian writer Vladimir Bukovsky: "One is one's own writer, one's own
editor, one's own publisher, one's own censor, one's own distributor and
undergoes one's own punishment" has disappeared (12).
At the end of the eighties there is a change in prosecution policy in
some countries of the Eastern bloc, in particular in Hungary and de GDR.
Whereas initially the state tried to stop any expression of independent
thinking by repression, to have too many political prisoners, too many
potential matyrs became a nuissance for these states. Human rights organizations
in the West and the desirability of economic contacts with countries outside
the Eastern bloc make their pressure felt. The prosecution policy develops
gradually towards limiting the volume of independent literature. Prisons
sentences become rare but equipement and publications are seized and fines
In the GDR fines range from five hundred to five thousand marks. They
imposed not only for illegal publishing but for any form of opposition
to the power wielders such as long hair or a punk hair. Fines were often
collected by distraint on wages, leaving people with not more than a bare
subsistance income (13).
In Hungary the homes of persons known to be printers or distributors of
samizdat were often searched. In case a 'roneo' machine or other multiplying
equipment was found it was seized, so that samizdat publishers fell back
to the more primitive device of the stencil frame, simple to hide, easy
and cheap to replace. A samizdat publisher had during eight years through
various contacts his printwork done in state enterprises against black
payment. He was caught only once during all that time. This happened when
he came to collect an order hot from the press. He was fined five thousand
forint and managed to continue his activities (14).
In Czechoslovakia repression was not as absolute as is often thought either.
At the same time as when the state security services take action against
the in their view excessive cultural activities of the (legal) Jazz Section
Prague leading to a prison sentence for one of its members, simular initiatives
are tolerated, or better not actively prosecuted. One example is the magazine
'Revolver Revu', a radical cultural and literary periodical of which the
authorities knwe exactly who made it and where. In the course of five
years thirteen fat issues (of three hundred to four hundred pages) were
allowed to appear. During this time the roneoed and photocopied printrun
increased from fifty to five hundred copies with a readership that can
be estimated at ten times this number. For Czechoslovakia this were exceptionally
high printruns. As a rule Czechoslovak samizdat was multiplied in minimal
quantities with typewriters carbon paper and thin paper allowing a maximum
of about twelve readable copies. The publishers of a similar review 'Vokno'
were prosecuted, those of 'Revolver Revu' were not. But on a bad day the
house were the review used to be made was destroyed in afire of which
the causes have never been established. The editors of Revolver Revu hold
that the state security services have been behind it (15).
In Poland the underground press had become so big that they became competitors
of the state publishing houses both in content and in size. Jaruzelski's
coup in 1981 involving, under martirial law then in force, the cancellation
of more than two hundred contracts with authors working legally until
then and the boycott of the regime by intellectuals initiated at that
time, only reinforced this development. In 1985 there was talk of between
five hundred and one thousand independent periodicals in Poland printed
in from one hundred to several ten thousands of copies (16)
in spite of the initial risks of seizure and prison sentences of several
years. The size of this illegal production ment also that the pureness
and the idealism that seemed to have to accompany samizdat publishing,
disappeared. Necessary materials had to be bought at the black market
which resulted in connections with more commercial interests.
In Yugoslavia the situation was different in the eighties. The existing
structures, in particular the cultural youth organizations, had been offering
since a number of years, be it limited, possibilities to express dissenting
opinions. Student cultural centres at Lublyana, Zagreb and Belgrade have
been turned into centres for radical avantgardes that bear comparison
with progressive cultural centres in Western Europe.
publications are sighted by the censor after printing. This means that
in several cases publications displeasing the state can yet be published
and be sold out before the public prosecutor has had the opportunity to
forbid them. The ever stronger national dissensions within the fedaration
have also increased the elbowroom for opposition groups. Endeavours to
repress intellectuals taking an independant stand as in the case of the
trial against what were called the 'Belgrade Six' in 1984 failed also
for this reason.
A case in point is the evolution of the Slovenian monthly 'Mladina' set
up in 1943 as the youth magazine of the communist party. In 1984 the moribund
publication was turned into a teenagerly 'fanzine' of which the circulation
rose initially to a modest seven thousand copies. But the young hip journalist
did not stop at pop events and the review became a political oppositional
paper that soon gained unbelievable popularity. The relevation of corruption
scandals in Slovenia drove the circulation up to thirty thousand. The
arrest of editors elicited strong protest, pushed the circulation to seventy
thousand copies and confered the magazine country wide importance in 1987-1988
in spite of differences between the Slovanian and other Serbokroatian
languages. "We are the official press, they the alternative one", claimed
'Mladina' editors with proud boldness at a congress about alternative
youth culture in Southern Europe in Bologna in December 1988.
The 'Europe Against the Current' event in September 1989 attracted three
hundred fifty participating groups from twenty-one countries. The multiformity,
the multiplicity of opinions sought by the organizers was achieved but
not all the participants and visitors were happy with it. The culturally
oriented found the event too political, the politicals blamed its far
too cultural character.
from Eastern Europe, mostly for the first time in the West, were often
surprised to see the Western European radical left groups present. Their
passionate stand was exactly what they sought to free themselves of or
what they tried at least to flee.
The Czech philosopher Václav Benda coined in 1978 the expression
'paralelnípolis' for structures keeping outside the state sphere
of influence that follow their own standards and have their own means
of communication (17). Under the existing
circumstances it was maybe the only option at the time. But in other social
conditions such a situation can result in suffocating ghettoing. This
goes for both Western and Eastern Europe.
To withdraw from society can be a necessary condition to discover or to
experience other possibilities and values. Lasting separation may jeopardize
such gains, however.
The price paid for social experiments in Eastern Europe was so high that
utopian endeavours are now viewed there with great fear. The Russian samizdat
author Venedikt Jerofejev says that he "would liked to live on this earth
forever provided I had first seen a small corner that is not always the
scene of big deeds" (18).
other options than either to participate in the existing order or to withdraw
in one's own subculture ?
The idea behind 'Europe Against the Current' was and is to offer
recurrent opportunities to show alternative possibilities and views, to
confront 'mainstream' Europe with all that may describe itself as 'alternative',
'independent' or 'radical', to be an inspiring force that prevents European
unity to become European uniformity.
Tjebbe van Tijen
[draft translation of an article in the dutch magazine "De Gids", may
1990 by Tjebbe van Tijen, translator Bas Moreel]
Number of groups entered in the database (situation september 1989):
Belgium 357, Denmark 29, Great Brittan 644, France 335, Hungary 39, Italy
358, Yugoslavia 58, The Netherlands 410, Norway 17, Austria 83, Eastern
Germany 11, Poland 51, Portugal 28, Soviet Union 297 (taken mostly from
a list of 600 groups published in 1989 by oppositional trade union SMOT
in Moscow), Spain 206, Czechoslovakia 20, Western Germany 602, Sweden
36, Switzerland 173, Iceland 4.
A selection of 988, of which 60 with a short description in English has
been published by the Foundation EAC in cooperation with the ID Archiv
in the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam.
A report in English and German was published as a special supplement
tot the West German Magazine 'Contraste', january 1990. Available from
Foundation Europe Against the Current, Jodenbreestraat 24, 10110 NK Amsterdam
A detailed description can be found in Helmut Volpers "Alternative
Kleinverlage in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland", Göttingen 1986.
Data supplied by ID-Archiv im IISG, Amsterdam/Frankfurt.
Quotation from "A magyar szamizdat 5 éve/Bibliography of Hungarian
printed political samizdat" published at Budapest in November 1985 by
Gábor Demsky and László Rajk on the occasion of the
Among the publications on display were those Wydaw ABC, Kraków.
Data taken from a text by I. Jirous, leader of popgroup Plastic People,
initially circulated in samizdat in 1975 and subsequently published in
the magazine 'Index on Censorship', London no.1 1983.
In "The imagination of the New Left: a global analysis of 1968" by
George Katsiaficas, Boston 1987.
A refreshing documentary film 'Majór' was made on this subject
in 1989 by the Polish filmmaker Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz. It was shown
in the 'Fresh from Warsaw' film festival in Cinema Desmet, Amsterdam summer
New York 1979.
See note 2.
From "I vozvrascaetsja veter"..
Taken form an interview made by the author in April 1990 with a member
of the group 'Wolfpelz' in Dresden.
Taken from coversations an interview made by the author in January
1989 and May 1990 with Aramlat publisher in Budapest.
Taken from an interview in May 1990 by the author with an editor
of Revolver Revu.
Taken form Dorota Lesczynska and Reinold Vetter, "Die unabhängige
kulturelle Bewegung in Polen", published in Osteuropa-Info No.64, Berlin
17. Manuscript multiplied by typewriter, quoted in
"Auf der Suche nach Autonomie: Kultur und Gesellschaft in Osteuropa",
D. Beyrau and W. Eichwede (editor), Bremen 1987.
"Moskva = Peutushki" (1969), "Moscow Circles" in the English translation,