Samizdat Keston’s archive is renowned for its rich collection of samizdat, or self-published, literature, a phenomenon which developed rapidly in the mid-1960s and remained the intellectual mainstay of Soviet believers right up to the collapse of communism. In our archives samizdat means anything from handwritten scraps of paper, through the most primitive form of cyclostyling, to typing with a number of decreasingly legible carbon copies underneath, as even photocopiers in private hands were banned during the communist period. Such documents include appeals to the Soviet authorities against the closure of churches, petitions to free prisoners of conscience and dossiers on their ‘crimes’, transcripts of court proceedings against believers, spiritual testimonies and stories of conversion, prayers and Bible commentaries, and whole volumes of church history.
For 70 years Christian publishing was virtually banned in the Soviet Union. Some manuscripts, such as the writings of Fr Aleksandr Men, were secretly sent abroad for publishing, but many circulated clandestinely in the country without ever finding a printer abroad. Some, preserved in our archive, are spiritual classics of our age. We retain them for the day when they will be published and made available to the broad mass of Russian believers. One manuscript we have translated into English is The Unknown Homeland, an anonymous biography of Fr Pavel, who found his true vocation while incarcerated in a Siberian prison camp in the 1930s.
A Swelling Chorus of Protest
This immense labour began almost simultaneously in a number of Soviet circles, provoked by renewed religious persecution under Nikita Khrushchev during the years 1959-64. Under Stalin protesters had faced death or 20 years’ imprisonment. By the early 1960s it seemed possible to defend the faith, and a well-organised group of Baptists (the Initsiativniki) began publicising their plight.
Protests soon followed against the desecration of Pochayev Monastery in Ukraine, whose monks were imprisoned or abandoned in psychiatric hospitals. In 1965 Frs Nikolai Eshliman and Gleb Yakunin wrote the first systematic exposure of Soviet persecution.With the trial of novelists Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1966, the Soviet authorities tried but utterly failed to silence those who produced and circulated samizdat. In the 1970s a flood of new material came from Lithuanian Catholics, Adventists, Pentecostals, Ukrainian Eastern-rite Catholics and Jews.
In signing the Helsinki Agreement in 1975, the Soviet Union pledged that it would honour religious freedom. This stimulated ‘self-monitoring’, which led to another wave of arrests and consequent protests. In 1976 Fr Gleb Yakunin set up the ‘Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights’ and systematically transmitted new information from all areas and denominations to Keston.
In addition to samizdat, Keston’s archive includes:
Documentation from the Soviet State Historical Archives, the archives of the Council for Religious Affairs (the Soviet body responsible for controlling all aspects of religious life) and KGB records.
Western and Eastern European press items on religious communities and church-state relations under communism.
Records of Soviet citizens imprisoned for religious activity.
Information on current religious developments in Russia and Eastern Europe, including texts of the 1997 Russian religious law and regional laws restricting religious activity.
Thousands of photographs of believers, clergy, church buildings and religious life in the Eastern bloc.
Our library of over 5,000 books contains:
Complete sets of Keston publications, including Religion in Communist Lands since 1973 (Religion, State and Society from 1992), Keston News Service since 1971 and Frontier since 1987.
All titles in the Keston Book series, including the works of Revd Canon Dr Michael Bourdeaux from Opium of the People (1965) to Gorbachev, Glasnost and the Gospel (1990).
1990s Russian publications on Orthodox theology and spirituality.
A major collection of Soviet antireligious books.
Several hundred titles of eastern and western church publications.
Most major works by western scholars in Keston's area of specialisation.
From its foundation in 1970, Keston’s work embraced all countries of the communist world, and the insitute has holdings of samizdat and other important materials relating to Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other Eastern bloc countries.
Keston’s archive and library contain information of interest to theologians, church historians, political scientists, sociologists, human rights activists, observers monitoring the Helsinki Agreement (now the OSCE or Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) and private researchers. Visitors are most welcome at the Institute - simply E-mail our librarian, Malcolm Walker, to arrange an appointment.
The 'Solovki Appeals', written in 1927: click here to access two appeals from the bishops imprisoned on the remote Solovetsky islands; the former monastery complex which became the inspiration for Solzhenitsin's Gulag Archipelago.