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Russia: Pravda Versus Pravda: Which 'Truth' Will Prevail?

  • Sophie Lambroschini

Twelve years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a fierce court battle has erupted over one of the Communist era's most famous monikers: "Pravda." Once the keystone of Soviet newspaper publishing, "Pravda" today appears in two diametrically opposed forms. One continues in the tradition of its Soviet-era predecessor, publishing page-long speeches from party leaders under the bright-red "Pravda" nameplate. The other publishes articles with a decidedly un-communist flavor on its "" website, and recently launched its own print version. So which "truth" will prevail?

Moscow, 4 November 2003 (RFE/RL) � A new, market-oriented "Pravda"? Some Soviet stalwarts may have received a shock last month when a newspaper bearing a distinct resemblance to their favorite party publication carried an interview with a non-Communist politician, steered clear of discourse about cheap bread and free housing, and took an unusually upbeat view of the government.

The "October surprise" was the pilot issue of the new "Pravda," which Editor in Chief Vadim Gorshenin hopes will hit the newsstands full-time next month -- relegating its "red" predecessor to the dustbin of history once and for all.

"My 'Pravda' is the real 'Pravda'," says Gorshenin, whose newspaper ambitions are a spin-off from the successful nonparty "" website he launched in 1999. But who is the rightful inheritor of the people's paper founded by Vladimir Lenin in 1912? The debate goes back to the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the Communists scrambled to regroup and keep the paper part of their political domain.

The paper was soon handed to the newly formed Communist Party of the Russian Federation, where it remains a decade later, plagued by dwindling circulation, mounting costs and an aging readership. Gorshenin, who worked at the Soviet-era "Pravda," now claims that the title rightfully belongs to the journalists who served the paper, not an editorial board seeking to further its political aims.

"Yes, we want to go to court to defend our rights as the founders of the 'Pravda' paper, and to reclaim the paper so that it will be published by true 'Pravdists' and not by people who don't have anything to do with the paper," Gorshenin said.

Staff at the "red 'Pravda'" see things somewhat differently. Editor in Chief Valentina says the newspaper remains the legal organ of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party: "We have everything. We have always published legally. We have the registration and a charter, and they stole our name. I think the court should make the right decision -- in our favor."

Communist "Pravda" has already taken Gorshenin's "" to court to contest its right to the famous name. But an arbitration court dismissed the case, saying the newspaper held no rights to the name and that non-print media were free to use the "Pravda" moniker.

Vladimir Enkin is a lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights. He says Gorshenin is trying to take the most out of his earlier court victory by pushing the court to now recognize his legal claim to be the sole inheritor to the "Pravda" name.

But Enkin says that both "Pravdas" are, in his words, "self-proclaimed" -- and nothing more: "They're both impostors, in the sense that both claim to be the legal successor of the Soviet 'Pravda' -- the one that received awards, the one that was established in May 1912, the one that was the Soviet Union's number-one newspaper throughout the entire Soviet period. They are impostors in relation to this 'Pravda' because neither has proved that it is the legal successor."

Enkin adds that although the law does bestow certain rights on a paper's journalists, in the case of "Pravda," too much time may have passed for Gorshenin to make a convincing case. Enkin says simply: "They missed the train."

The lawyer also notes that while Gorshenin is free to continue publishing his "" website, he cannot put out a "Pravda" newspaper with a circulation of more than 1,000, because for now the Communist "Pravda" holds the legal rights to the name. Communist "Pravda" argues the case is about more than intellectual rights. Staff there say Gorshenin is seeking to weaken the communist electorate by seizing control of their trademark publication.

Renald Saldikov is part of the Communist Party legal team representing the paper. "I want to say that [intellectual property and] authors' rights are just part of the problem here. Another problem is libel -- that is forbidden by the criminal code. It's also about violating electoral laws. When did the paper appear? [It's not a coincidence that it appeared] before the [December parliamentary] elections. The parliamentary election campaign has started. This is black PR," Saldikov said.

The pilot issue of Gorshenin's print "Pravda" featured an interview with Sergei Glazyov, a leftist economist who recently broke with the Communists to set up his own party. The article appeared to suggest that many other like-minded moderates were soon to do the same. The article sent tempers at Communist "Pravda" flaring. But Gorshenin denies he is aiming to discredit the Communists ahead of elections. He says his newspaper's pilot issue was not meant to confuse readers, but to introduce them to what he considers the true "Pravda:"

"From the very start, in the pilot issue we wrote that we don�t have anything to do with the [Communist] paper that comes out. That one is a clone. This is the real 'Pravda.' Plus, the Communist 'Pravda' comes out with red letters, this one with black letters," Gorshenin said.

Gorshenin says his interest in securing the "Pravda" rights is mainly commercial. It probably wasn't what Lenin had in mind 90 years ago, but today, Gorshenin says, "The 'Pravda' name sells."