Who Has the PRAVDA?
A group of Pravda journalists this week filed a lawsuit at Moscow's Tverskoy Court for founding rights of the print version of the newspaper Pravda. PRAVDA.Ru's editor-in-chief acts as a claimant in the case
The following is an abstract of an interview that took place a decade ago. The current owner of PRAVDA.RU talked with Gennady Zyuganov in Russia’s Supreme Council building of the Krasnopresnensky District Council - the location from where the Communist Party waged its political struggle against the regime of Boris Yeltsin.
Gennady Zyuganov said: "It was the Communist Party that attracted thousands of people to defend the Supreme Council. We brought the people here, everyone will learn about it later." The newspaper that called itself Pravda (where I worked as a special correspondent) refused to publish the interview with Zyuganov. They believed there were many parties in Russia calling itself Communist and that Zyuganov was the leader of only one of them. During the night of 4 October 1993, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation said on television he was not connected with coup leaders. He called upon the people to go away from the White House, but the people could not listen to him.
It is unconscionable that ten years later, the same person intends to use the 1993 attack on the White House for his own pre-election purposes. Gennady Zyuganov’s campaign is armed with slogans to berate the Yeltsin-Putin regimes for the shooting of Russian citizens, that it was a great crime against the people, a violation of human rights and so on and so forth – everything that his press secretaries are going to write. However, I am ready to ask a question to Mr. Zyuganov in advance, although I do not know if he will answer: Mr. Zyuganov, what did you do to save the people who had come to the White House on your personal appeal?
People were dying, including 13-14-year-old boys, whose mothers were coming to Pravda's office saying their lives had ended with the loss of their children. Maya Skurikhina, Pravda's legendary photographer, asked for pictures of these children from their parents – pictures used in almost all mourning demonstrations timed to October 4. It turned out later that the Pravda was told to stop covering the story. This was the wish of the Greek owners, who had become associated with the newspaper through the efforts of Gennady Seleznyov's, the then editor-in-chief. I was not allowed to write about the millions of signatures collected demanding an alternate version of the Russian Constitution when a referendum on the subject was held in 1993. Acting editor-in-chief, candidate to join the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation Valentina Nikiforova and member of the mentioned committee, Viktor Trushkov (they maintained contacts with Gennady Zyuganov at that time) said that the alternative variant of the Russian Constitution was not in party's interests. It was added, the party needed help to win the Duma elections of 1993. Gennady Seleznyov was no longer the editor-in-chief after the events in October 1993, although he continued to control the newspaper's editorial policy. Seleznyov agreed with them: he was running on Communist Party's list.
Then I thought: couldn't I stop working for the Pravda at that time, when there was such a strong discord between the interests of the people who I had to meet and whom I was writing about? Other respectable newspapers were inviting me, promising much nicer money. But I could not leave.
A crisis occurred at the Pravda in the beginning of 1994. Most employees were unhappy with Greek publishers management control. Gennady Zyuganov consulted with Pravda journalists concerning this issue. Journalists were hoping that the communist leader would be able to find an "optimal solution" to settle the staff’s unease with the Greeks. Eyewitnesses say Zyuganov's stance was formed with the “help” of genuine Greek cognac Metaxa. When the communist leader saw the gift, he stated that he wanted to come to agreement with everyone, including foreign entrepreneurs, who supported the communist party. Pravda journalists were standing for the Russian way of the newspaper's development. After Zyuganov's statement, telephones were disconnected, locks were changed in Pravda's offices, archives were stolen, journalists' salaries were cut. Soon after that, Greek businessmen claimed all rights to the Pravda newspaper: founding, trademark, archives rights and rights for the orders. As it turned out, Gennady Seleznyov had vested everything to them secretly. However, the president's Court Chamber for Information Disputes (chaired by now-deceased Anatoly Vengerov) unexpectedly decided to defend Pravda journalists' rights. That was a very surprising thing to happen as the president’s court structure was defending the rights of the people who opposed Yeltsin. Later, the chamber requested Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov to investigate the details of the situation with the nation's oldest newspaper, which had found itself under the foreign control. Skuratov (presently included on one of KRPF's regional lists) simply did not notice the request. Several years later, Yury Skuratov said in an interview with me that the people from Yeltsin's administration had pressed him very strongly not to open the case.
Pravda insignia can only be found in other countries, as well as the majority of unique exhibits of the Pravda museum. The fate of the original certificate issued by the Russian Ministry for Press to the newspaper Pravda in 1991 is not known. However, one of Gennady Seleznyov's Greek companions promised to hang it as a decoration in his Cyprus house.
A lot of things have been written about it, as well as about the story of several Pravdas existing in 1997-1998. There was a period when three newspapers were prepared to unite, but top officials of the Communist Party blocked this idea. Taking into consideration all the ruptures caused to publications using the name Pravda by the party's leaders and what has been left of the print version of Pravda at the moment, it is clear that Gennady Seleznyov originally saw Pravda as the "fiefdom" newspaper.
On the threshold of the military operation in Iraq, PRAVDA.Ru's deputy editor-in-chief Dmitry Litvinovich went on a business trip to Baghdad with Gennady Zyuganov and Pravda's acting editor-in-chief Valentina Nikiforova. Litvinovich has published not less than four long articles about the lives of the Iraqi on the eve of war. The print Pravda published only a servile story about Comrade Zyuganov's views on the political situation in Russia and Iraq. Indeed, what more could a present-day Pravda reader want other than quotes from a Communist leader on the eve of war? I am prepared to sincerely sympathize with the distributors of the newspaper that carried the same name as the one where I started working in 1986. But how can I?
Two days ago, me and a group of Pravda journalists decided to file a lawsuit to consider the registration of the newspaper by the Press Ministry in 1991 null and void. It is rather hard to explain to the people born at the end of the 1970s that the newspaper Pravda, in which we worked, was absolutely different as compared to the present one. Professional people used to work in that newspaper together with career-driven journalists. Pravda was on the top of the press hierarchy and professionalism. Furthermore, Pravda's registration certificate issued in 1990 to the Central Committee of the Communist Party is still valid. That is why all the following certificates are invalid. We are legally going to demand the re-registration of the newspaper in connection with the abolishment of the previous founder. The founding rights are supposed to be granted to the people, who worked in Pravda in 1991. This right is guaranteed to us both by the Soviet and the Russian law about mass media.
Thirdly, (for those people who believe in CPSU and for those who think that our actions are aimed against Zyuganov's party), we are going to defend our labor rights. This might sound insane in modern Russia, but I do not know any other example, when employees' rights were violated as roughly as it happened to Pravda employees. The situation with our work experience is not clear, because we are still not been released from the KPRF's Pravda. Yet, we do not have an employment record for the newspaper registered in 1991, although we were fired from it.
Finally, no matter what political parties might say about Pravda journalists' legal initiative in the nearest future, no matter how they might try to use it for their pre-election purposes, I am prepared to state: we consider it necessary to provide the succession of the newspaper's traditions, in which we were lucky to work during one of the best periods of its life – the Soviet period traditions, first and foremost. We are going to retrieve Pravda's position as an international newspaper.