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The New era of "Samizdat". How to fight digital dictatorship

Tuesday, 18 October 2022, 18:35

Two years ago, at the height of the Belarusian protests, journalists I knew offered articles to American publications in desperation, hoping to draw the attention of the world to what had been happening in Belarus for the last quarter century.

But the US media did not undertake to publish materials about censorship and dictatorship in Belarus, and, moreover, they questioned my colleagues’ objectivity and sanity, wondering if perhaps they might not be exaggerating and over-dramatizing their circumstances. 

In spite of the torture and violence; the arrests and years-long prison sentences for the crime of reading "dubious" telegram channels. In spite of the inhuman treatment of prisoners, and the fact that any citizen of the country could be tossed in prison for an elementary social media repost. Such was the state of affairs in Belarus but to the unceasing surprise of my Belarusian colleagues, American publications were simply not interested.


However, since Russia invaded Ukraine, censorship and the lack of freedom of speech have become a widespread topic of journalistic coverage in the West. 

The coverage of the crushing of independent press, the blocking of media, arrests, and the mass exodus of journalists, who have no choice but to flee their homeland so as to continue practicing their profession is now quite common.

The enormity of the consequences of the ban on freedom of speech became obvious not only to the participants in the annual press congresses.

Those who had not heard anything about VPN before have mastered its use, and the story of the dissident "samizdat" has acquired an unexpected rebirth. Now, even more than in Soviet times, people need access to uncensored materials. 

The emergence of a digital "samizdat" was only a matter of time. In July a company named Samizdat Online took up the mantle and a new era of self-publishing was born. The sad irony in the corporate moniker was not accidental.

As a journalist who was forced to leave Belarus, I feel lucky to have joined the team at Samizdat Online, a project that was originally conceived as an emergency anti-censorship mechanism to help Russians fully grasp the war that their leaders had begun in their name, and that then rapidly started to grow to combat autocratic censorship across the globe. 

It is both a media platform and a unique technology that bypasses DNS blocking, makes any banned media available without a VPN or other additional plugins, and brings all the best of the free press together in one place for discovery and (as "samizdat" implies) wide-spread viral distribution.

For a banned publication, a special "SOS-Link™" is created that can be sent, published, or opened with a single click. Even the most inexperienced user can read any blocked content, forward it and share it on social networks. 

The solution is "simple", but elusive to censorship. Anyone who has access to the Internet - anywhere on Earth - can click on one of our links and immediately see the content behind it.

If a particular link is noticed by some autocratic regime and added to their DNS blacklist, our technology notices and eliminates the "dead" domain from the roster. 

The team at Samizdat Online is committed to finding new and clever ways to get around and stay ahead of these censorious governments because Samizdat Online’s core driving philosophy is that information leads to understanding and understanding leads to compassion and compassion leads to human flourishing. Taking this premise at face value - it is essential that the free press remains accessible to anyone who wishes to see it and Samizdat Online is doing everything possible to realize this aspirational ambition. 

Anna Trubachova, editor-in-chief of Samizdat Online.

Disclaimer: Articles reflect their author’s point of view and do not claim to be objective or to explore every aspect of the issues they discuss. The Ukrainska Pravda editorial board does not bear any responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided, or its interpretation, and acts solely as a publisher. The point of view of the Ukrainska Pravda editorial board may not coincide with the point of view of the article’s author.

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