Friday, November 02, 2007

Samizdat in the Information Age.

It already seems an aeon ago. The days of the Soviet Union. When we in the ‘free’ west regularly read of the plight of writers and artists under what we were assured was an oppressive regime. Writing in secret, smuggling manuscripts, illicitly copying and passing on of work, all of which if you were caught in possession of, could result in some harsh penalties. Samizdat it was called, a play on Russian for self-publishing and the names official Soviet publishing houses had such as Politizdat or Detizdat.

I mention Samizdat because recently I read a blogpost that was about blogging and the internet. It would seem that moves are afoot in Italy to enact legislation regarding the freedom of speech in cyberspace. The Levi-Prodi law wants to ensure that ‘anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money’. This according to Italian anti-government campaigner Beppe Grillo.

No doubt some see in this a sinister move to halt free speech and the free exchange of information. And you have to say they would probably be right. There must be many in the establishments of Europe and the Unites States who are deeply uneasy about the way in which opinions and information can move across the web without them or any of their client departments having much control. But I suspect, moves such as the Levi-Prodi law are about money as much as repression. We live in a part of the world where market values are, in effect, the prevailing ideology. (though I use the term ideology loosely because I don’t think many of the poltical brains of our time have probably ever done much serious thinking – plenty of justification - but little serious thinking). I suspect what irks some of these people is that in their view there is a huge ‘market’ there yet to be tapped. For in the case of the above legislative proposal it is not hard to imagine that registration will not be free, certification will need to be paid for and of course both these will be topped off with a tax.

The connection with Samizdat is of course ideology. The Soviet state sought control over its writers and artists because it feared they might ‘contaminate’ Communist ideology. Of course, often times, it was just simple brutality and spite. However the ideological aspect was the justification. In our society of market forces and market values many writers and artists already work using a form of Samizdat. The blogosphere, (I know it is and awful term), and the Internet in general, provide a means of sharing work and getting response. For in order to be viewed through the mainstream channels of communication one needs now, it seems, more and more to fulfill the requirements of the ideology. That is, your art – your product – must be marketable, must be merchandisable and its success must be able to be determined in units sold and revenue generated.

True, caught in possession of something outside that framework will not result in imprisonment or a stretch in the gulag. But a life in unsuitable or low paying work, without any means of self-expression or confirmation of your creativity can be a sentence of its own.

(If you want to know more about this legislation click here)

Copyright (C) Peter Millington Now 2007

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