On this day in 1991, the very last issue of the Soviet newspaper Pravda was published, bringing to an end a publication history that stretched back more than 75 years, to the days immediately preceding the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Pravda, which translates as “Truth” in Russian, was started in the 1912, as the official newspaper of the Revolutionary Bolshevik party. It was conceived as an organ that would faithfully promote and popularise the actions of the Party and its leaders. It would enlighten on matters of doctrine and political philosophy, and expose the dangers and falsehoods of the opposition.
Its early days were punctuated by continued persecution from the Russian authorities, who viewed the newspaper as agitational and damaging to the Tsarist regime. In an effort to stay one step ahead of the censors, the paper was obliged to change its name a number of times in its early years, and was constantly dogged by the henchmen of the establishment.
After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Pravda quickly became established as the main organ of the Party, with none other than the Soviet leader Vladimir Ilych Lenin in charge of editorial policy. It moved to Moscow in 1918, where it flourished as the chief disseminator of Soviet propaganda.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the paper gained a reputation for its slavish devotion to the Party, which often saw it criticised internationally for its perceived disregard for the truth. Its devotion to the Party dictated that only positive news could appear in its column inches, and the Soviet Union always had to be shown in glowing light. Despite a huge global readership, there was little in the publication that could be whole-heartedly trusted. It was often bracketed alongside another high profile Soviet publication, Izvestia, which roughly translates as News. For a time a joke circulated that “v Pravde net izvestiy, v Izvestiyakh net pravdy,” translated as “In the Truth there is no news, and in the News there is no truth.”
The end came for Pravda when its paymaster, the Party itself, spluttered towards its demise during the last days of the Soviet Union. On 22 August 1991, Russian president Boris Yeltsin issued a decree that officially liquidated the Communist Party, simultaneously seizing all of its assets. Pravda, as the loyal servant of the Party was not immune to the ruling, and a gagging order was put in place preventing any more editions going to press.
Many of the journalists who worked for the paper were indignant at their treatment, and tried to rally support for their cause, stating the enforced closure of the paper represented a new wave of state censorship. But inevitably the protests proved to be in vain, and the last issue of Pravda was published the following day.
The name Pravda was quickly re-registered, and newspapers bearing the name continue to be published. However, these have no significant connection with the original newspaper, and have nowhere near the profile or readership of the original publication.