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Russia: Former Head Of Radio Liberty's Samizdat Unit Remembered

By Mario Corti

A large presence over several decades in the work of Radio Liberty -- RFE/RL's Russian Service -- died this week. The service's director, Mario Corti, provides this report on the contribution made by Peter Dornan.

Prague, 3 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- On All Saints Day (Nov. 1), in Springfield, Pennsylvania, the former head of Radio Liberty's Samizdat Unit, Peter Dornan, died of cancer at the age of 76. He was the first editor of "Materialy Samizdata," a weekly publication of RL that became the biggest collection of annotated documents on human rights violations in the Soviet Union.

"Materialy Samizdata," originally created for internal use only, was soon made available to external subscribers. It became the main source of information for scholars and journalists interested in the subject of human rights violations in the USSR. It was also a key resource in the struggle of Soviet dissidents for their individual, political, social, national, and cultural rights.

Dornan joined the Radios in 1956 as a research analyst. He was instrumental in the creation of a samizdat archive at Radio Liberty in 1968, and was its custodian until 1988, when he retired. He was also the author of the most exhaustive study on Andrei Sakharov at the beginning of the 1970s (which was included in "Dissent in the USSR: Politics, Ideology, and People, edited by Rudolf Tokes, Johns Hopkins University Press). Thanks to Dornan, samizdat documents played a key role in Radio Liberty broadcasts. Indeed, it was thanks to samizdat and the efforts of Peter Dornan that Radio Liberty's broadcasts became a real "domestic" service, broadcasting to the Soviet Union documents about and authored by people living inside the country. The samizdat archive is now available at the Central European University in Budapest. Peter Dornan recently decided to donate his personal archive to the Drew University Library in New Jersey.