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Essay: The history of censorship in The Netherlands and Russia

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The history of Russia was completely different from the history of West-Europe, so this meant the art history as well. When the first parsoena (mix between a realistic and realistic portrait) had yet to be made, Leonardo da Vinci already had painted his Mona Lisa in the sixteenth century. This was because the Russian church split in the western and eastern churches. Because of this, the Latin sources had a hard time to find a way to the Russian empire. Constantinople fell in 1453 and the church nor the state wanted to change or innovate things, this meant that there was a long period of the same art.
West-Europe was the place where art developed and The Netherlands was more involved with this process. This is also because the France Revolt made sure that a revolt in The Netherlands would success as well, and this had the results of the birth of the Batavian Republic. A republic was and is, of course, positive for the art.
The Netherlands
The history of The Netherlands and its art started around the sixth century: The time of Monks and Knights.
In the Dark Ages was the symbolism a central theme. The art had to contain concrete, visible aspects which refer to a deeper, higher reality. Everyday people, colours, numbers or objects could be a symbol for something else ‘higher’. The artists always used certain symbols which could be recognised by the public as well. Other characteristics of the Dark Ages were art jobs, artistic tradition and a didactic function.
The assignments that the artists(sculptors, painters, architects) got were detailed described and the artist couldn’t deviate from this. The description was more like a demand. The client paid the artist with material and the care.
The artists of the Dark Ages worked according to the artistic tradition and weren’t original.
The most famous propaganda in the Dark Ages was the courtliness, ‘courtoise’ in French. Because lots of knights lived at a court, there had to be rules made to prevent aggressiveness. The main goal was to teach manners and civilized manners. People weren’t allowed to insult or hurt others. Self-control was very important. Literary works were used to propagate how people were supposed to live. Another literary rule was the courtly love: the man had to worship the woman. Knights were role models. The feudal obligations and loyalty were also motifs.
Around the twelfth and thirteenth century, the feudal society converted to a urban society. The feudal agriculture was replaced by trading market and production. The urban civilization were critical about the dominance of higher sections of the population. Next to that was the administration of justice uncontrolled. Van den vos Reynaerde was an animal-story that reflected the society at that moment. The author could criticize the society, especially the feudal administration of justice, through animals without problems.
In the seventeenth century, reformation was caused by the wrongs of the Roman Catholic church. Calvinism was created by Johannes Calvijn and because of the printing press, developed around 1515, his beliefs were spread quickly. When Karel V ruled the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, the ‘Bloedplakkaten’ became a law against the heretics. After his son, Filips II, took over, he intensified the persecution. Not only the expression of Calvinism was forbidden, the art was too. Dissenters had to watch that they wouldn’t publish their ideas, because that could mean the end of their lives.
Another topic of discussion in that time was the translation of the Bible. A lot of reformers wanted to give the bourgeoisie access to read the Bible themselves. In the Council of Trent was decided that the Vulgate remained to be the official translation of the Bible, which can definitely be seen as censorship. In the Synod of Dort in 1618 was decided that a translation of the Bible in Dutch had to be made, which succeeded.
Literature also had to follow up some rules during the Renaissance. It had to be educating, profound, full with mythological references, wordplay and ambiguities.
The customers of art(nobility and Roman Catholic church) were no longer a part in the Republic. Rich citizens and urban settings were the new customers. Next to that a new free art-market was arisen. The painters could now create their own art with their own ideas.
The performing arts in 1600-1700 were focused on teaching the public a lesson about life. Comedies were based on the Roman ones, which is logical, because it was the Age of The Renaissance. These Renaissance-comedies had to stick to 5 elements.
A new emancipation movement had started during The Age of Enlightenment. It was very important for the people in the Republic to spread knowledge. In 1784, the ‘Maatschappij tot Nut van ‘t Algemeen’ was created. The wrongs in the society could be cured by better education for the whole population. Books were published and more facilities were built like libraries, banks and for social care. This is definitely a sign that the censorship was at a low degree at that time, because it was not without danger to start a movement that said that the people weren’t the ones to serve the sovereign.
The critics against the absolutism in France were growing and growing, with help of philosophers like Montesquieu. Absolutism equals censorship, so how is it possible that these ideas could be spread? This was possible because of the encyclopaedia, critical plays, books, magazines, social places and scientific societies. Satires were the most popular in that area.
Shortly, the development of the individual was important. In music, the composer now saw himself as a creator of art, which lead to conflicts with the client.
A development in the literature was the invention of specatoral magazines in 1730. The texts described daily problems which were educating and provoked discussions and deduction. Social groups, like the Noble and craftsmen, were being mocked. Though around 1780, the popularity decreased, because political issues weren’t allowed to be examined. Another form of literature was the imaginary voyage-story. Because the land where the main character is visiting isn’t real, the author can easily criticise the society without getting in trouble.
When The Netherlands got a revised constitution, the country became a parliamentarian democracy. This was the start of a period of liberty. The bourgeoisie were in control and people became individualistic.
In the 19th century, the system where the clients of the artists decided the style and design, completely disappeared. Art became wares and the artists could choose his own style. Still, there was a group that chose the preference and taste of the customers, while a second group chose to ignore the wants of the customers.
Photography was also invented in this age. Painters didn’t have clients who asked for realistic paintings, because photos could fullfill that job. This is also why the modern art started to appear.
A very important movement were the Romantic artists. They said that the rules of art where containment of the freedom of expression of feelings. This was the first movement to say that, while all of the other movements had rules. Though the books these days say that the Romantic artist had to own fantasy. There was also individualism in literature and music.
The Movement of the Eightiers(Beweging van de Tachtigers), is a group of poetics and writers who said that the literature had to be liberated from religious, moral and didactic goals. The individual was in this movement extremely important too. This movement ended in 1894, because the group fell apart.
After the first World War, a war which The Netherlands didn’t play such a big part in, the Interbellum started. In this period, the Dutch literature was under high pressure. Some writers worked through with tradition, while others wanted to innovate. Almost the same problem was with music: the public wanted traditional music and not innovative componist. In the thirties, national-socialism set it. People felt threatened and started searching for more social engagement. This was also the time of ‘Verzuiling’, translated to ‘compartmentalization’ in English. This was a process that the Dutch society was divided into four different groups: Protestants, Catholics, socialists and the liberalists. The main reason of this compartmentalization was because these groups got a voice in the parliament with political parties. Not only did every compartment have its own religion, it also had its own media and newspaper. It was unthinkable that someone of one compartment could have contact with someone from the other. This meant separate schools, different broadcasts, but also different media and thus books and newspapers. We can still notice the compartmentalization in the present time. This is a form of self-censorship, because people restricted themselves by only watching, reading and listening to the ideas of their own compartment. This was caused by the opinions, norms and values of the compartments.
During the Cold War, abstract art had started. Groups of artists even appeared and art was a total individualistic thing.
There was a lot of censorship during the war, especially in literature. After this period, writers chose to write in a contrariness style. The writers especially wrote about things which were taboo, which can be seen as self-censorship. They wrote about (homo)sexuality and used coarse words. Both writers and poetics were critical about the society.
Laatste 2 eeuwen
The art in Russia slowly began to develop in the Dark Ages as well: in the tenth century, the architecture and making paintings were popular art forms. In the thirteenth century, Turkish-Mongolic tribes entered the Russian empire and they stayed till 1480. These little principalities took a long time till they stood up to the rulers.
Russia was part of Poland since the sixteenth century and there was a lot of suppression in that period. Russia was an underdeveloped country, but because of the Academy in Kiev, which spread the European culture to Russia as well. The Russian folklore consisted of fairy tales.
In the eighteenth century, literature didn’t really progress substantively, because the Russian language wasn’t literary enough to write poems with. It took over a century to create a language that was generally acceptable and understandable.
When tsarina Catherine the Great was reigning over the land, she had a lot of contact with philosophers like Voltaire and Diderot. She saw herself as an enlightened monarch and she collected a lot of art. When the France Revolution in 1789 came to be, she hesitated about her way of ruling: what if a revolution like that happened in Russia? She immediately stopped with stimulating the enlightened vision and became stricter. Different writers got arrested and there was no more freedom of expression. A famous writer that didn’t get arrested was Fonvizin, because he was so extremely popular. When she passed away, the tsars after her kept the censorship up. Until the year 1830, poetry was the only form used to express and to tell stories. The censorship in poetry was extreme. An example is the poetic Lermontov who was banned to the Kaukarus mountains or Poesjkin, who wasn’t welcome anymore because of his atheistic expressions in his poems. The Decembrist Revolt in 1825 was the turning point that prose started to dominate and realism became the ‘next thing’. The Decembrist Revolt was a protest of the people, because they didn’t want that Tsar Nicholas I would take to the throne after his father died. This was a moment that the people were fed up with the tsars. Writers wrote about the social issues and the wrongs of the class society. Radical Nikolaj Tsjernysjevski said that art, especially the literature, had to expose the social injustices. All the radicals wrote articles about this, but got arrested. They did not get arrested because of their articles, but because people thought they set things on fire purposely. This means that the censorship wasn’t as strict as before, because the main reason of their captivity is not the fact that they spread radical ideas.
In 1855, tsar Alexander II gained the power over Russia. In exception of his predecessors, he listened to the Decembrists and abolished the serfdom of the peasants. He also bettered the jurisdiction, stimulated the economy a lot and lessened the press censorship. He’s called the Liberator of Russia. But he made these changes because the country’s problems were too big. Still, he avoided triggering ideas of the separatists and he knocked down revolts when needed. When he was murdered by leftist terrorists, his son took over and wanted to reverse every reform of his father. The years 1880 and 1890 were dark years full with autocracy, reversing the developments and of course increasing the censorship again. Still, in the years of 1890, the economy gained a burst which had a huge effect on the Russian culture: music and fine arts really became the primal art forms.
The 20th century was an important century for Russia. With the Russian Revolution in 1917, the time of tsars was officially over. The revolution was caused by discontent of the people, in particular in the countryside. The main reasons were that the weak Russian army had to fight during the First World War with poor equipment and weaponry. With one defeat after another, the food production decreased and the hungry townspeople started the Russian Revolution.
A new government was shaped, with the leadership of mister Kerenski. Eventually, Lenin gained the leadership of the government with the help of his political program and his followers named ‘Bolsheviks’. When this happened, the political opponents got arrested and the censorship on press intensified. Unlike all the other times with increased censorship, this time a secret police force named the Tsjeka made sure no opponent got a chance to spread any ideas. This period, from 1918, is called the ‘Red Terror’ because thousands of people were murdered.
But it only intensified more: in 1921, Russia was renamed as the Soviet-Union. Communism was the new state ideology and that quickly started the downfall of the Soviet-Union. Religion was forbidden, also the artistic expressions of religions, and everything was nationalized. The industries didn’t know how to work when merged with other industries. Workers were hungry and peasants didn’t want to produce because of discontent. Five million people died because of these circumstances and new revolts were upcoming. In this period, the literary life stopped. A lot of writers were silenced or emigrated to another country.44 Luckily, Lenin did change his plans and tried to be more comprehensive and the situation bettered. With his new vision on the economy, the cultural life got more freedom than during the civil war and warcommunism. New cultural groups could arise. But these new groups with new movements had to be tolerated.
Lenin died in 1924 and Stalin formed the Soviet-Union to a dictatorship and increased the terror even more. The collectivisation went on and protestors were killed or sent to labor camps. This was the first evident period with lots of active propaganda. The art of, for example photographers, was changed and edited before publishing. As long as Stalin was glorified, artists wouldn’t get in trouble. Every form of critic or satire was an immediate danger for life. There was no more room for artistic experiments and the art was forced into socialism-realism.
Figure ?: An enemy of Stalin in the politic was Trotski, the man with the hat. In the right photo is visible that Trotski is edited out of the photo.
In 1929, proletarian writers wanted to take over the Russian literature, because the autonomy of the writer and the leadership of the communist party over the literary was unacceptable. This hate campaign was ended by the authorities by creating a Writers Federation which had a lot of privileges, but in return, they had to make works which confirmed the doctrine of the ‘social realism’. This meant a lot of rules and no writing against the party.44 The work had to bring over the positive characteristics of the party’s ideology. The writers were controlled.
In 1941, the Soviet-Union was already involved in the Second World War, because of Operation Barbarossa where Germany invaded the Soviet-Union and also created a new enemy.
The Cold War was the period with loads of propaganda against the Western Capitalism.
After Stalin died in 1953, things changed. Chroetsjov became the
leader and started the destalinization. He made the crimes of Stalin public and softened the dictatorship. People started to gain confidence to fight for freedom and democracy again. This caused revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. This was never the intention of Chroetsjov, so he shut the revolts down violently.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader of the Soviet-Union and he was the key to freedom and the fall of its outspread empire. He started ‘perestroijka’ and ‘glasnost’. The first one signified restructuring the economy by giving the industries more self-initiative. The second one signified the openness of matters by giving the press freedom and freeing the prisoners, which were a lot of artists. This was the first time in a long time that the media had so much freedom. They could criticize the social wrongs as much as they wanted. Russians these days see that period as a wonderful one. With these reforms, Gorbachev wanted to make the communistically system more attractive, but the urge for freedom was too big: one member state after another had a government that admitted to free elections and the communism disappeared quickly. Gorbachev suffered loss of prestige and quit his position.
Boris Yeltsin was the follow up who disbanded the Soviet-Union in fifteen souvenir republics in 1991 and renamed the Soviet-Union to Russia.
Vladimir Poetin became the second president of Russia and he thinks that the fall of the Soviet-Union was something terrible and never should’ve happened.
During the Perestroijka, people had never suspected that the censorship in the press would ever come back. But when Poetin gained the power in Russia, everything changed again, because Russia is currently, after Iraq and Algeria, the most dangerous land for journalists. The Kremlin controls the daily news and threatens journalists and human rights activists. When someone is murdered, the police always says that it was suicide or kidnapped, but the people know better. Small groups and organisations do this for The Kremlin: nationalists murder anti-fascists and religious factions murder artists with liberal views and ideas. The court also always sides with The Kremlin. The population is set up against the talented artists.
A small group of around 200 people come together to memorize the victims and have one minute of silence together. A lot of people just accept what is going on, because they know their opinion won’t be heard. Not only journalists are in danger, social organisations such as youth movements are as well. Another way to get rid of people who come close of spreading the truth or who are a danger for the censorship in Russia, is the same technique used in the seventies. These old techniques are used again, for example to lock healthy people in mental hospitals when they have no proof to lock the people in jail.
Points of discussion
While exploring the history of The Netherlands and Russia, different questions can be asked about the politics of censorship. We’re quickly going through these question and explain why we’ve came up with them and try to answer these.
For a long time, artists got assignments and couldn’t deviate from these. Can this be seen as a form of censorship?
Something that should be noticed in the Dark Ages, is that all the art were the same and not original at all, so there was no censorship, people just didn’t push their limits. This was also influenced by the mentality in that time. People weren’t trying to individualise and listened to everything the church told them. The artists also didn’t deviate from the assignments of their clients, because they just simply didn’t have the equipment. The client paid these artists with equipment and care. The artists didn’t have the wealth or the ideas to decline these demands.
At the end of the Dark Ages, artists started to have their second thoughts about the higher classes. When the Renaissance had begun, artists finally could create their own art with their own ideas and there was enough wealth to make this happen.
When the development of the individual was a main theme in the eighteenth century and artists saw themselves as the ‘creators’, the clients and the artists got into conflicts. After artists get complete freedom, as seen with the constitution of 1848, art becomes wares. Then a group of people are starting not to listen to the clients or the public taste.
Now that we’ve shortly looked at the history of artists and their clients, we cannot see a connection between this and censorship. Artists could make their own art in their own style if they wanted to, but the clients wouldn’t be happy and obviously the artist wouldn’t be paid. But self-censorship could definitely be involved in this matter. Even though the artists were completely free in 1848, there was still a group which preferred to please the public and didn’t innovate in their art. So this means they did restrict themselves, but it was more a matter of money than a matter of fear of the public opinion.
Are groups and movements which rebelled against the in that time current movement a form of self-censorship?
The history of the art in The Netherlands contains a lot of movements and trends. Every movement, for example realism or romantic, wanted to change the artistic movement before that. This was mostly literature, poems and paintings. Also, they wanted to change the self-censorship and express their critics of the society, especially in the ages after the war.
Every movement had its rules. An example is naturalism, the texts had to be as objective and neutral as possible, not didactic or moralistic. Also groups like ‘De Tachtigers’ were not content with the way artists made their art or the way writers wrote their books and poems. It is known that every movement is a reaction to another and that every movement had its own rules. But why would a writer follow the rules of a movement? We asked artist’
Can propaganda be confused with censorship?
Propaganda and censorship are two different terms. The dictionary states that propaganda is a form of advertisement of ideas and activities. Still, we’ve discovered that, especially in the Russian history, the artists could only write books or make art if they would follow the party’s ideology. So, this is a mix of censorship and propaganda and this means that propaganda can definitely be confused with censorship. Propaganda can also be used separately from censorship. In times of war, propaganda is most popular to spread the idea that the enemy is very dangerous and that everyone should volunteer to fight or work in the army. This doesn’t mean that there is censorship as well. We can conclude that the way propaganda is used will decide if censorship will be engaged with it. There is more of this combination in the Russian history, an example is the Writers Federation.
Can famous people permit themselves more?
We saw in the history of Russia that tsarina Catherine the Great couldn’t arrest famous writer Fonvizin. In the Dutch history is also noticeable that people who wanted to criticize needed a protector, preferably a bishop or stadtholder. Lots of philosophers had to move to a different town to keep away from the authorities, this way, they could still publish their books. So although these people were famous, they still needed to flee.
We can conclude that the rate of arresting popular people is determined by the government or leader of the country. Writer Fonvizin couldn’t be arrested, because that would cause trouble with the people and Catherin the Great probably saw that she wasn’t powerful enough to keep these people in check. While the situation of the fleeing philosophers makes clear that the king and his followers had no problem with arresting and the additional effects it would have on the people.
Is a mass culture/bourgeois culture a form of self-censorship?
The term mass culture means a form of experiencing the culture that coheres with industrialisation and mass media. Individuals adopt their cultural identity from commercial products, media, the popculture and brands. This is a normal occasion in our society. But are the people restricting themselves with this mass culture? We can answer that with a yes. We can see this in fashion trends, the same kind of music on the radio twenty-four hours a day and the thousands of detective programmes and soaps. Most people describe this phenomenon with the term ‘popularity’, but we can see that the distinctive people are having a hard time.
In the Dutch history, there are a lot of movements that want to get rid of the rules of the movement before that. ‘De Tachtigers’ were a literary group that fought against literature with a moral, religious and didactic goals. So, they were distinctive. It’s hard to get rid of mass culture, as proven by ‘De Tachtigers’, because the group ultimately fell apart.
But the self-censorship and the mass culture is linked with norms and values, and these are different in every country. We will dive into this subject in the conclusion of this report.
We can conclude that the art in Russia had to endure more censorship than in The Netherlands. In Russia, the censorship is so dated that people don’t know better. An interesting thing is that the censorship increased after the France Revolution, while in most countries the censorship reduced.
We’ve seen in the introduction that the history and the influences of other countries are essential for the freedom and development of art. Russia was censored of the influences of West-Europe. This is also because Russia is further than The Netherlands, which practically bordered France. But when the distance of a country and the European centre of art is excluded of our observation,
After the period of perestroijka, the Russian didn’t know censorship anymore, but that quickly changed again. We see a lot of fragments in the news that the art in Russia is full of propaganda and censorship. It’s not as dangerous as it was in the times of the Soviet-Union, but critizing is not a very good idea, like researcher Jelle Brandt Corstius could proof with his documentary about the Russian censorship.
In The Netherlands, we can say that the seventeenth and eighteenth century were the times with the most censorship. This is the period with Philips the Second and the inquisition. When the time of stadtholders was over and the democracy was born, those times were over. It is interesting to see that the artists found a couple of ways to criticize the society without getting into problems, like the spectatorial magazines and the imaginary-voyage stories. Art forms in The Netherlands went through a lot of styles and movements and finally, with the mass culture, self-censorship is the biggest form of censorship these days.

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