“Tsensuuri töö on väga vastutusrikas.” Dokumentaalne pilguheit Eesti NSV Glavliti tegevusele aastatel 1941–1948 [Abstract: “The work of censorship carries a great deal of responsibility”. A documentary glimpse of the activity of the Estonian SSR Glavlit]


  • Tõnu Tannberg




Censorship, Glavlit, Estonian SSR


Abstract: “The work of censorship carries a great deal of responsibility”. A documentary glimpse of the activity of them Estonian SSR Glavlit in 1941–1948"

Censorship was one of the important social control mechanisms of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs, or Glavlit (in Russian Glavnoe upravlenie po delam literaturȳ i izdatel’stv), was established under the jurisdiction of the People’s Commissariat for Education on 6 June 1922 by decree of the Russian SFSR Council of People’s Commissars. Its task was to combat the ideological opponents of the Soviet regime. The censorship of essentially all printed works published in the Soviet Union was gradually placed under Glavlit’s jurisdiction. By the end of the 1930s, Glavlit was transferred to the jurisdiction of the USSR Council of People’s Commissars (starting in 1946 the Council of Ministers), but substantially, censorship officials were placed under the direction of subordinate institutions and officials of the Communist Party, and of the state security organs. The same kind of institutions in the Soviet republics and oblasts were subordinated to the central Glavlit of the USSR. The Glavlit of the Estonian SSR was established by decree of the Estonian SSR Council of People’s Commissars on 23 October 1940.

The task of Glavlit was to prevent the disclosure in print and in the media of Soviet military, state and economic secrets with the overall objective of banning the publication of all manner of ideas and information that was unacceptable to the regime. It was also to prevent such ideas and information from reaching libraries. To this end, both pre-publication censorship (the review of control copies of printed works before their publication) and post-publication censorship (review of published printed works, the physical destruction or obstruction of access to works that have proven to be unsuitable) were implemented. In order to carry out censorship, lists of banned literature were drawn up in cooperation with the state security organs, along with enumerations of information that was forbidden to publish in print. These formed the basis for the everyday work of Glavlit’s censors, in other words commissioners. Not a single printed work or media publication could be published during the Soviet era without Glavlit’s permission (departmental publishing houses practiced self-censorship). In addition to scrutinising printed works, the monitoring of art exhibitions, theatre productions and concert repertoires, the review of cinema newsreels, and provision of guidelines for publishing houses and libraries also fell within Glavlit’s jurisdiction. Censors also read mail sent by post and checked the content of parcels (first and foremost the exchange of postal parcels with foreign countries).

In the latter half of the 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev rose to lead the Soviet Union, Glavlit’s control functions in society gradually started receding. State censorship was done away with in the Soviet Union on 12 June 1990, depriving the former censorship office of its substantial functions. Glavlit was disbanded in Estonia on 1 October 1990.

The Estonian SSR Glavlit activity overview for the years 1940–1948 is published below. This is a report dated 20 October 1948 from Leonida Päll, the head of the Estonian SSR Glavlit (in office in 1946–1950), to Nikolai Karotamm, the Estonian SSR party boss of that time. This document provides a brief departmental insight into the initial years of the activity of the Estonian SSR Glavlit. It outlines the censorship agency’s main fields of activity, highlights the key figures of that time, and describes the agency’s concrete achievements, including recording the more important works and authors that had been caught between the gearwheels of censorship.


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Author Biography

Tõnu Tannberg

University of Tartu, Faculty of Philosophy, Institute of History and Archaeology, Chair of Estonian History, Professor



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