The Russian and Soviet Press: A Long Journey from Suppression to Freedom via Suppression and Glasnost
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CitationMerkushev, Alexander. "The Russian and Soviet Press: A Long Journey from Suppression to Freedom via Suppression and Glasnost." Shorenstein Center Discussion Paper Series 1991.D-10, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, August 1991.
AbstractAs fate would have it, the Russians had to make their way towards democratic liberties and press freedom twice: first within the framework of czarist Russia and then repeating the entire path within the Communist structure of the Soviet Union. In both cases, their travail produced but partial success: basically a compromise between what the authorities were willing to allow and what the subjects were demanding to obtain.
Attempts launched by pro-democracy forces to accede to freedoms, culminating in the February 1917 "bourgeois democratic" revolution, resulted in the weakening of the Russian empire that had been historically held together by the strong hand of its rulers and led to the paralysis of power in the absence of democratic traditions of government. The Bolsheviks who took advantage of the situation and seized power in November I9I7 proclaimed basic liberties only to replace them later with tough controls in all spheres-political, economic, and intellectual. The democratic changes initiated by the Soviet leadership in the mid-1980s did lead to a greater freedom of expression and the acceptance of basic human rights, but they also unleashed long-suppressed nationalist, centrifugal forces that are now threatening to break up the "Soviet empire," tempting the authorities to apply force to preserve the country's unity and their own existence.
The printed word has always had a special appeal for the Russians: writers and poets have enjoyed an esteem that was envied by rulers and heroes alike. Anything that appeared in print was considered truth, and the powers that be, aware of this idiosyncrasy of their subjects, sought to control the press and literature in order to control the populace. They succeeded in doing this only partially as there have always been intrepid men of letters who defied pressures from above and planted seeds of doubt in the minds of admirers through their novels, poems or newspaper articles. Very often, they did that at the expense of their own freedom and even lives.
The press, as well as other institutions both in pre-revolutionary Russia and in the Soviet Union, always reflected the tug-of-war between authorities unwilling to yield powers and a public wanting to have as much freedom as they could possibly handle.
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