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440062 IOC 0 0 10.1177/0306422012440062 GlanvilleIndex on Censorship 2012
THE PRACTICE OF FREEDOM
A few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of Index’s funders informed the magazine’s staff that it was time to pull down the shutters and go home: job done, censorship was now a thing of the past. The anecdote is highly revealing of a certain misguided attitude towards censorship – namely, that it is a creature purely of totalitarianism, and communist totalitarianism at that. Although Cold War dissidents, from Solzhenitsyn to Václav Havel, featured significantly from the very first appearance of Index 40 years ago in the spring of 1972, when the magazine was founded in response to an appeal for help from the Soviet Union, Index made it clear from the start that censorship was a worldwide issue that featured in democracies as well as in dictatorships. ‘The problem of censorship is part of larger ones about the use and abuse of freedom,’ wrote the poet Sir Stephen Spender in the first issue.
It was Spender who founded the organisation Writers and Scholars International (WSI), the parent body of Index, to support freedom of expression. He had been moved by a letter published in The Times by the Russian dissident Pavel Litvinov, grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, who had bravely made a stand. Spender brought together the greatest writers, artists and intellectuals of the day to send their support, including W H Auden and Henry Moore. He then enlisted David Astor, editor of the Observer, the biographer Elizabeth Longford and the lawyer Louis Blom-Cooper, amongst others, to join WSI’s council. It was the idea of Russia specialist Michael Scammell, Index’s first editor, to start a magazine.
Looking back through Index’s archive has been a revelation. It is not simply the roll-call of the greatest names in international literature (Nadine Gordimer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Samuel Beckett, Kurt Vonnegut), it is also the unchanging texture of censorship and totalitarianism, whatever the technology. There seems to be very little difference between the tactics of the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, in 1939 and the Chinese police today.