article originally writen for the Dutch journal de Gids (mei 1990) by
Tjebbe van Tijen

"For 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

-that ignores the restrictions of nationality

-does not bother about power blocks

-bursts accepted forms."

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 of views".

click green bullet to jump to the full text of the manifesto as issued in 1988
click red bullet for link to archives of the Foundation Europe Against The Current at the International Institute of Social History

The organizers and their helpers accumulated and databased almost 4000 addresses of initiatives that in some way complied with the criteria. For this they put to use the international network of alternative bookshops, publishers and collectors grown over the years and went through catalogues, reviews, folders, specialized guides (1). They supplied the addresses for the invitations but are also a permanent source of contact possibilities. The catalogue that was published had a choice of one thousand addresses. Many of the entries had short commentaries and descriptive texts based on the letters and documentation materials send to the editors of the catalogue. Small pictograms in the catalogue indicated the kind of activities and what information carriers were used.

We shall 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 each year.

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 (4).

"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 systems".

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).


In the 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 movement.

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 world'.

The most 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 sheer frenzy..."(8).

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) establishment (11).

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 imposed.

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)

All this 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.

In principle 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.

The participants 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).

Are there 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]

1. 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.

2. 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

3. A detailed description can be found in Helmut Volpers "Alternative Kleinverlage in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland", Göttingen 1986.

4. Data supplied by ID-Archiv im IISG, Amsterdam/Frankfurt.

5. 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 Cultural Forum.

6. Among the publications on display were those Wydaw ABC, Kraków.

7. 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.

8. In "The imagination of the New Left: a global analysis of 1968" by George Katsiaficas, Boston 1987.

9. 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 1990.

10. New York 1979.

11. See note 2.

12. From "I vozvrascaetsja veter"..

13. Taken form an interview made by the author in April 1990 with a member of the group 'Wolfpelz' in Dresden.

14. Taken from coversations an interview made by the author in January 1989 and May 1990 with Aramlat publisher in Budapest.

15. Taken from an interview in May 1990 by the author with an editor of Revolver Revu.

16. Taken form Dorota Lesczynska and Reinold Vetter, "Die unabhängige kulturelle Bewegung in Polen", published in Osteuropa-Info No.64, Berlin (West) 1985.

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.

18. "Moskva = Peutushki" (1969), "Moscow Circles" in the English translation, London 1981.

In Europe, the birthplace of the nation states
with their 'national' cultures
exchanged in the international markets
like commodities
another exchange has been going on for many years
of another type of culture

that exceeds the limitations of nationhood
takes no account of the power blocks
ignores the accepted norms

The urge to express oneself
to create one's own forms
to offer one's own interpretations
to appropriate all the means of expression
gives birth to products like

posters, postcards,
books, pamphlets, periodicals,
slides, photos, films,
audio-cassettes, records, videotapes,
assemblages, installations, computer systems

The circulation of these products is not limited
to the circles of their makers
but extends far beyond:
a lively international exchange
notwithstanding censoring
notwithstanding border checks
notwithstanding financial limitations

The manifestation
seeks to give an extra stimulus
to this free and independent exchange of information
- aims to establish new cross connections
between groups and currents
from the Urals to Iceland
from the North Cape to Gibraltar
- offers the opportunity
to make new contacts
with a new audience

The manifestation
- ignores usual barriers between disciplines:
visual arts-literature-music-theatre-film-....
seeks to stimulate multidisciplinary approaches
- does not confine itself to a single area:
but, by presenting these areas and others,
wants to show what connects them
- does not seek only to bring together
people who share the same opinions
but wants to show the wide variety of opinions

Independent publishers,
alternative culture makers
radical producers
come for three days
have your creativities flow together:


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