* Pravda marks 100th anniversary in opposition
* The newspaper was ruling Soviet party's mouthpiece
* Paper has struggled since fall of communism
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, May 4 One hundred years after its first
edition appeared, the once mighty Pravda newspaper has gone back
to its origins as a struggling opposition newspaper, but is
still defiantly urging the workers of the world to unite.
The paper that for decades was the mouthpiece of the ruling
Soviet Communist Party, churning out propaganda that made a
mockery of its title meaning "Truth", suffered a humiliating
fall from grace as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Banned by Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1991, Pravda
was later revived, then sold to a Greek family, engulfed by
financial problems and finally taken over in 1997 by the Russian
Communist Party Central Committee.
Times are hard. But its editor says that battling hostile
authorities, the threat of closure and financial problems is how
Pravda spent its early years after first appearing in St
Petersburg on May 5, 1912, until the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
"In many respects our role and purpose has gone back to what
it was before 1917," Boris Komotsky said in his office in
Moscow's Pravda Street, a huge photograph of Soviet state
founder Vladimir Lenin reading Pravda on the wall behind him.
"We are the opposition's main organ, fighting for power, for
policy changes. We've gone though so many problems. Now each of
the workers here is a hero. At times they've had to work without
getting a paycheck."
The paper will celebrate its anniversary with a reception in
central Moscow but otherwise says it allows itself no luxuries.
In many ways, Pravda seems stuck in the past. A large bust
of Lenin greets anyone entering the newspaper's offices. Busts
of Karl Marx and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin rest on a cabinet
behind the editor's desk. Marxist literature lines the walls.
The newspaper does not look very different from in Soviet
times, with three Soviet medals it received still featuring
prominently on the masthead under the slogan: "Proletariat of
all countries, unite!"
The paper is smaller - now just four pages - and Komotsky
says there are just 23 journalists, including three in the
former Soviet republics of Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus. The
print run is 100,000 compared to millions in its heyday.
But the layout and content are familiar to anyone who read
the paper in Soviet days, with articles extolling the virtues of
the worker and railing against capitalism.
"We are the only newspaper in Russia today that has not
changed its form and content," said Komotsky, a senior member of
the Communist Party. "We are true to our name."
Critics say that was never really the case at Pravda. News
was never a priority and jokes about its lack of objectivity and
In a play on the meaning of its title and that of the daily
Izvestia, which means "news", Soviet citizens used to quip:
"There's no truth in Pravda and no news in Izvestia."
Deprived of its role as the ruling party's mouthpiece,
Pravda's relevance is not clear to everyone.
"It was probably the dullest paper in the Soviet Union. I
Haven't read it for ages and I think it has no role to play
now," said Konstantin von Eggert, a commentator for Kommersant
"It's the kind of brand you can't resuscitate. If you look
at things now, even being called 'Truth' is a bit rich. It makes
any one in the post-modern era mistrust it from the very start."
WIDELY READ, BUT NOT WIDELY LOVED
Even at its peak, Pravda was more widely read than it was
loved. Russians say that even the Communist Party members who
subscribed to it did so mainly out of a sense of obligation.
"We were supposed to read Pravda but I rarely did," said
Konstantin Petrov, a 57-year-old businessman, adding that he had
always preferred the magazine Ogonyok.
Architect Alexander Fyodorov said: "I still read Pravda.
Everyone should. There's still a place for it. Mind you, my
favourite was always another newspaper, Sovietskaya Rossiya."
Pravda was, however, required reading for Moscow-based
foreign correspondents and diplomats who pored over it for news
about what was really going on behind the scenes.
Articles rarely led on the real news, especially if it
reflected badly on the Soviet Union. Journalists learnt to skim
through long and turgid articles to find the paragraph starting
"Odnako" (however) which could suddenly reveal a newsworthy gem.
The order in which Communist Party officials were listed at
official events showed who was in favour. Even veiled criticism
in Pravda meant an official was out of favour.
News would sometimes appear from the provinces, otherwise
unobtainable for foreigners at a time when travel was limited
outside the capital. Readers' letters sometimes gave a sense of
what Soviet people were really thinking.
In a secretive country where news was hard to come by for
Soviet citizens, and often censored, Pravda would occasionally
announce major developments such as the death of leaders.
One joke told how every morning a man would come up to a
newspaper stand, buy Pravda, look at the front page and then
toss it angrily into the bin. The newspaper-seller, intrigued,
eventually asked why he did this.
"I'm only interested in the front page. I'm looking out for
a death notice," the man says.
When the newspaper-seller points out that death notices only
appeared on the back page, the man says: "I assure you, the
death notice I'm looking for will be on the front page."