Friday, January 09, 2009


Below is the original version of an article I wrote a couple of years or so ago on the topic of Pravda. It was commissioned by Vice Magazine after my earlier uninhibitedly enthusiastic postings on the subject and, since I'm not absolutely sure it was ever published, I present it to you here.

(note to self: must do more of those postings!)


At the tender age of 12, and back during those Cold War years, I'd have happily collaborated with a glamorous SMERSH agent with a name like Tatiana. Come on, who wouldn't want to be recruited by her like? At the time, naively, I even wrote to Moscow and duly received a parcel full of wonderful exotic Soviet goodies in the form of complimentary Russian language issues of
Shakhmatny (their much coveted chess journal) and the daily Pravda newspaper. It might have been unreadable but was nevertheless full of that darkly seductive Cyrillic script on cheap greying paper. From Russia With Love indeed.

The story of Pravda ('The Truth') has as much intrigue as any Iron Curtain spy thriller. Originally founded in 1908 in Vienna by Leon Trotsky, the paper had to be smuggled in the dark of night into Russia - and its unstuffy proto-tabloid editorial style made it an immediate success with the workers. After the establishment of Communism in 1918 its offices were transferred to Moscow where it existed as the party organ until 1991 when Boris Yeltsin, emboldened by Western governments and on one of his legendary vodka benders, shut down the Communist Party, seizing Pravda along with everything else. Perhaps with good reason, as the paper (satirised as 'The Squealer' in Orwell's Animal Farm) in all those intervening years had been a very effective political tool for Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and other leaders to effectively strengthen their power base.

Yeltsin didn’t succeed without a fight, however. The Pravda journos stubbornly fought back for their paper and for freedom of speech and quickly had it reregistered. After further ructions and a mass walk-out by the employees, the new version was once again shut down under government pressure and it was subsequently many of these newly-sacked journalists who we now have to thank for the joys of, the online version.

William Bennett


1 comment:

Ea-M. said...

"Come on, who wouldn't want to be recruited by her like? At the time, naively, I even wrote to Moscow and..."

Awwww that's just adorable. Wonder what the Vatican would have sent me, if had written them asking for a Father Ralph at that age...