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  • Looking for the Censor in the Works of Sean O'Casey (and Others) in Polish Translation
  • Robert Looby

The March 1953 edition of the Polish publication Medycyna Weterynaryjna ('Veterinary Medicine') carried on its first page a photograph of the recently deceased Stalin. In an internal report, the censor wrote:

Szkodliwość w okolicznościowym numerze polega na tym, że redakcja ograniczyła się do zamieszczenia na pierwszej stronie zdjęcia Tow. Stalina bez jakiego-kolwiek art. wstępnego. Bardzo nieprzyjemne wrażenie mógłby odnieść czytelnik znajdując na miejscu art. okolicznościowego /wstępnego/ - art. o "Ochronnym szczepieniu świn".

(The harmfulness of the special issue consists in the fact that the editors limited themselves to putting a picture of comrade Stalin on page one without any kind of leader article. A very unpleasant impression might be made on readers finding in the place of a leader (or special) article a piece about 'Swine Vaccination.')1

The periodical went to press with a proclamation to the Polish people on the reverse of the photograph of Stalin, and the offending article was pushed back a page.

In such a case it is all too easy to assume that the censor was a doctrinaire Stalinist. It is quite possible, on the other hand, that his zeal was feigned in case some superior should feel that Medycyna Weterynaryjna had not displayed enough reverence for Stalin. The report is so absurd that one might even think the censor was privately making fun of censorship and the cult of personality – in an eminently deniable manner, of course. And what of the editor? Was it an oversight? Did he assume a full-page picture of Stalin would in itself satisfy the censor, [End Page 47] or was he making an anti-communist statement by leading with an article on the vaccination of swine? A glance at the other numbers for 1953 suggests that the first article was usually more political than that for March. The titles, at any rate, contain such communist clichés as 'walka' ('struggle'), 'rozwój' ('development'), and 'nauka weterynaryjna w służbie . . . ' ('veterinary science in the service of . . . ').2

This is a well-documented example, and yet, as is often the case with political censorship, the modern-day researcher is left to speculate on the basis of incomplete records which, even though they originated with the censor, were themselves subject to censorship. There is always a danger of overinterpreting or underinterpreting decisions like publishing an article on pig vaccination. Equally, if we know the censor may have intervened, or even been on the writer's mind, it is hard to show he had no impact. The effects of direct protocols such as 'do not permit any writer to blame the USSR for the Katyń massacre' or 'always show married couples sleeping in separate beds' can be seen and accounted for, but censors did not usually issue (or possess) such clear instructions. It is doubtful that either the editor or the censor of Medycyna Weterynaryjna knew exactly how much Stalin was enough. Rather, there comes into being a system of nods and winks in which everyone – editors, authors, publishers, translators, readers – more or less knows the rules, and either plays by them or produces work not intended for publication, or intended for the samizdat press. Piotr Kuhiwczak speaks of 'a conspiratorial pact of mutual understanding' between poets and readers in the Cold War-era Polish context.3 The rules can be bent, and much depends on the political climate obtaining at the time. Much also depends on the individual censor. He or she might let a 'dangerous' reference pass if it can later be claimed – in the event of query – that the offending passage or word also had a completely innocent meaning or explanation. Editors were aware, too, of the advantages of what we might call 'plausible denial'. Some censors' reports give examples of misprints that sound like deliberate mistakes.

Translators would also have been drawn into this system, and similar interpretive problems present themselves with their work. In a joke at Franco's expense, the censor adjusts his title in Polish translation from 'Generalissimus' to 'General' because the former is connected...


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pp. 47-64
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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