April Fool's news 'scoop' fails to make media stars

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

March 31, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The lively newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda scooped its competitors yesterday with a report about the impending removal of one of the brilliant red communist stars atop the Kremlin and its replacement with an imperial double-headed eagle.

The scoop wasn't in the news angle so much -- after all, anyone can make up a story -- but in the timing.

According to the front-page article, bylined "Mark Ruffov," all the streets around the Kremlin were to be closed today so the public couldn't see what was going on. This, after all, was dicey: an extremely nervous government stripping the very citadel of Soviet power, the last turning off of a red light whose gleam once lighted the cosmos itself and still pierces the dark Moscow night.

In secrecy, the star atop the 15th century Beklemishevskaya Tower was to be removed in an operation somehow involving both a giant crane and a helicopter. (Some of the Kremlin stars weigh up to 1 1/2 tons.)

In its place would go a replica of czarist eagles that had guarded the ramparts until 1935, when Stalin ordered them off.

And all of this was to be just a test run -- to see if the republic would founder or lightning would strike or Vladimir Zhirinovsky would stamp his feet -- but if all went well every single ruby-red star was to follow.

This first communist beacon to be expelled from the firmament was to be given a place of rest in the courtyard of the Museum of the Revolution, right next to a burned out trolley that memorializes decidedly anti-communist resistance to the coup of 1991.

At least one beguiled foreign correspondent thought this a story worth checking out. A call to Komsomolskaya Pravda brought a terse, "To be continued Friday."

That's tomorrow, of course, April 1.

Lugubriously, it began to dawn on him. While even a try-anything-once newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets, was running a fairly serious (well, kind of serious) front page yesterday, the jokers at "Komsomolka," as it's called, had stolen a march on April Fool's Day.

The Kremlin wasn't amused. Apparently a lot of readers didn't catch on to the idea of April in March. The calls poured in.

A check with the director of the Kremlin museums elicited a suggestion that not only wasn't she going to talk about star-busting, but it's extremely unlikely she would ever have anything to say at all on any subject even remotely related to it. (This sounded better in Russian because the Russian language has no aversion to double negatives -- or triple or quadruple, for that matter.)

The conversation ended rather suddenly.

A call back to Komsomolskaya Pravda found quite a few reporters giving credit to someone else for dreaming up Mark Ruffov.

One unhelpfully suggested that his name was a takeoff on Mathias Rust, the young German who landed his small propeller plane on Red Square, much to the dismay of Soviet generals, back in 1987. Well, even in Russian, that's a bit of a stretch.

It turns out the real Mark Ruffov, better known as Marco Ruffo, also came to Moscow back in '87 -- 1487, that is. He was the Italian architect who designed the Beklemishevskaya Tower and the walls connected to it.

And, as Mr. Ruffov should have pointed out in his front-page story, the tower he designed in fact has never sported either an eagle or a red star. It's topped by a gilded metal banner. The red stars are over on the more prominent north Kremlin towers.

And how will Moscow's organs of mass information respond to all this? Gleefully, no doubt.

Last year, after all, Moskovsky Komsomolets ran a stunning photo display of Ruslan Khasbulatov's apartment, which appeared to be about the size of Grand Central station and was furnished like the kind of place the czar might have felt comfortable in. And all this on a politician's salary!

Even the Tass news agency got into the act last April, though its inimitable attempt at humor has been purged from memory by now.

All organs have been warned this time, thanks to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Tomorrow's news better be sharp, and, like the winter weather that can't bear to go, it better have some bite in it.

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