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Censorship in action

Censorship in action (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain)

This chapter aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of how censorship worked. It does so by looking at the way in which censorship was applied by those in power, but also at how individuals and groups have been finding ways for their messages to go around the censor. The chapter looks at groups in society which were effected by censorship. It also takes a closer look at those the reasons those in power had to censor citizens. The thematic approach to censorship applied here can help students understand better the mechanism of censorship as a means of repression.

 Silencing Citizens through Censorship
  1. The historical context in the 7 country cases
  2. Censorship in action
  3. Heritage of censorship
  4. The bigger picture

This unit has been made by the team working on the project "Silencing Citizens through Censorship. Learning from Europe’s 20th Century Dictatorial and Totalitarian Past”. The project has received funding from the European Union within the framework of Europe for Citizens Programme. The content of this unit reflect only the authors’ views and the European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.


This module is published under the CC BY 4.0 licence.

What were the tools and methods to censor and to avoid being censored? (Public Domain)

What were the tools and methods to censor and to avoid being censored?

When it comes to censorship, states and citizens seem to be in a cat-and-mouse game. One sets the rules, the other seeks to break them. Many tools and methods were used to censor citizens, but citizens also developed their own approaches to somehow bring the message undetected by the censor. When you knew that the state would not allow you to make certain songs or poems, you could make coded texts. Words appear to be dangerous, so in many twentieth century countries there were restrictions. Even jokes were banned! School teachers often knew exactly what to do and what to say because textbooks and guidelines gave no space for deviating. Studying censorship gives us information on how states wanted to shape their future citizens. When students were not behaving like they should, they could be expelled from universities. Staying anonymous was a way to avoid being censored. Graffiti was a way to express your feelings. Meanwhile censors kept their eye on the press and many writers put themselves to self-censorship. In many situations, the state invested a lot of means into its ability to constantly monitor all forms of communication in the country. Seemingly happy societies were often dealing with constant pressure from the state’s secret security apparatus.

Learning Activities

Dangerous Art (Alan Ford Comic Issue No.3, 1969, p.102-105)

Dangerous Art

Learning Activities

How to become a good citizen (Archivo General de la Administracion, F-04309- 010-002)

How to become a good citizen


When books burn (National Archives and Records Administration, College Park. Public Domain)

When books burn


State security knows best (Creative Commons CC0)

State Security knows best


Who is involved and affected, and how? (1923-1938, Gazetta Ufficiale del Regno d'Italia)

Who is involved and affected, and how?

Many people were involved or were affected by the occurrence of censorship. Which individuals, which groups of individuals and which institutions? Can we find similarities across countries? Many times artists were restricted in their work because it did not fit in the ideology or because they belonged to the opposition. In some cases women were not free and homosexuality was portrayed as evil. Being a member of a minority was not without danger, either, when the state wanted to show a completely unified country. Students were often able to find clever ways of tricking the censor. Departments of the government and especially security organizations kept a close eye on individuals and groups, considered to be dangerous.

Learning Activities