Pravda's moment of truth Publication suspended: Once-mighty Communist paper closes because it resisted change.

August 06, 1996

DURING THE SEVEN decades of Soviet existence, Pravda, despite its circulation in the millions, never was the country's biggest newspaper. But as the official organ of the Communist ** Party, it was by far the most important. Dozens of satellite plants printed and delivered it, making sure party apparatchiks in 15 republics knew what the day's truth was, according to the Kremlin.

This once-mighty paper has now suspended publication for the fifth time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its owners, two millionaire brothers from Greece, accuse the paper's editors and staff of working little, of boozing too much and publishing "nothing worth reading."

Has 84-year-old Pravda, which was founded by Lenin himself, closed permanently? Probably not. But its decline from the most authoritative Soviet newspaper, with a circulation of 11 million, to a paper of fewer than 200,000 subscribers shows how unappealing communism has become. Millions of people may still vote communist -- largely as a protest -- but few want to read irrelevant party dogma.

Pravda's troubles are in stark contrast to the fortunes of Izvestia, the one-time official Soviet government organ, and two newspapers of the Communist Youth League, Komsomolskaya Pravda and Moskovsky Komsomolets. Taking advantage of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's reformist policies, all three began modernizing their content and developing new niches. Without changing their names, they have become respected newspapers and are able to compete with such aggressive post-communist newcomers as Sevodnya and Kommersant.

Pravda remained wedded to ideology, despite readers hungry for useful information and muckraking stories. It is telling that the shrill, ultranationalistic, anti-Semitic Zaftra, and not Pravda, is the leading opposition paper today. Alexander Prokhanov, editor of Zaftra, had it right when he said, "Nobody should go soak himself in gasoline because Pravda may die. It will probably return. But it won't matter. It has already been dead for several years."

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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