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The Journal of Communist Studies, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 1993, pp. 20-40 PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS. LONDON

The Russian Free Press in the Transition to a Post-Communist Society


Michael E. Urban is Professor of Political Science at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is grateful to the National Council for Soviet and East European Research whose funding supported this study and to Peter Kenez for his thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of it.


An increasingly independent press was both a harbinger of, and a participant in, Russia's transition from communism. Associated at first with the struggle against the communist regime, the issue of press freedom has acquired new dimensions in the aftermath of communism's defeat. A study of three newspapers - Nezavisamaya gazeta, Delovoi mir and Panorama - suggests the direction that the development of a free press in Russia might take. First, it seems unlikely that overt, political restrictions of the press will be reintroduced. Secondly, however, there is evidence of newspapers exercising self-restriction and self-censorship in the face of the newly restructured governmental power. Thirdly, the press now faces constraints of a new kind in the struggle to acquire scarce material resources in a competitive market environment, and this will make the goal of changing old habits of mind and developing an alert, critical and well-informed public opinion difficult to realize.

This study is concerned with politics and the press in Russia's post-communist transition. As a comparative case study of three independent newspapers established during the USSR's final years - Nezavisimaya gazeta, Delovoi mir and Panorama - the analysis here is oriented more towards specificity and depth than towards a broad consideration of the press in general. Although these three newspapers are sufficiently distinct, one from another, to suggest something about general currents within the Russian press, my intentions are more modest. Namely, I wish to provide, first, some relatively detailed information on the formation, operation and style of the newspapers in question and, secondly, some characterization of their evolving inner and outer environments. Hopefully, these characterizations can be read both as conclusions derived from my sample and as potential hypotheses for those concerned with the development of Russia's post-communist press in general. After situating the press in the context of Russia's communist regime and noting, in this respect, the fundamental shift introduced by glasnost, the discussion turns to the organizational histories of the newspapers in the sample, their aspirations and the difficulties that they have encountered in pursuing them, the roles that they played during the coup of August 1991, and what their respective situations in the early post-communist period might indicate for the development of a free press in Russia.

Communism, Politics and the Press in Russia

From its inception, the communist regime in Russia had taken considerable pains both to promote its own publications and to eradicate all competitors.1 A number of studies of the Soviet press have already detailed the various functions and characteristics that it had acquired and developed over the course of its history: the propagation of officially established 'truths', the mobilization of the population to accomplish regime-prescribed objectives, an outlet for widespread social frustrations, and the like.2 Important as these features may have been to understanding the Soviet press, however, they are of less interest to us here than is the position that the press had occupied in the overall construction of state power.

From this perspective, the Soviet press was one among many organizations and modes of activity that might be regarded as 'instead of institutions. That is, instead of elections, for example, the population was provided with single-candidate Soviet 'elections'. Instead of a constitution, they got the Soviet Constitution, a document honoured every day in the breach and every year with a day off work. And instead of newspapers they were supplied with the Soviet press. Moreover, the issue of the spurious nature of these 'instead of institutions - elections without choice, a constitution without effect, newspapers without news - would represent only half of the picture. The other half comprised absences -absences on which the communist order depended for its existence and absences that it maintained by occupying each space with its own counterfeit institution. Sanctions would then be employed against those who would so much as question the authenticity of the 'instead of institutions, let alone those who endeavoured to create the genuine article. For within the logic of this order any attempt to provide what was in fact lacking simultaneously appeared as action intended to dislodge whatever purported to fill the lack. Consequently, any such effort immediately assumed the character of 'anti-Soviet agitation', 'a slander against the party and people', and so on. This construction of state power, then, was anchored in a definition of politics as treason.3

One of the outstanding accomplishments of Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika was to undo this definition. By the end of the 1980s, limited forms of political activity were tolerated and, in some instances, even encouraged by his reformist leadership: the organization of political groups outside the tutelage of the communist party, elections that often featured real alternatives for the voter, a policy of glasnost in the mass media (still controlled by the party and state) that extended the bounds of the permissible. A milestone in this last respect was recorded on 12 June 1990, when the USSR Supreme Soviet enacted a new Law on the Press.4 The legislative battles surrounding the adoption of this measure,5 as well as the efforts of many party and state authorities (including Gorbachev himself)6 to rein in the press freedom that it provided,7 testified to the fact that it represented a fundamental break from the past for the press and in the general political life of the country. It marked the passage from state-sponsored glasnost to the institutionalization of press freedom. It meant that hitherto unofficial publications still appearing as a form of samizdat on the margins of legality could become duly established newspapers enjoying the same formal rights and protections as their state-sponsored counterparts. In short, the law authorized for society its own voice.

Within the space of some nine months, a total of 1,773 newspapers and periodicals - about half of them new publications and the great majority founded independently of state or party organizations - had been registered by the USSR's State Committee on the Press,8 while hundreds more had been registered with the Russian government's Ministry of the Press and Mass Communications.9 In terms of the range of reader interest (from business and politics to fashion, sport and sex), the character of founding organizations (state bodies, political parties, clubs and individuals) , and the print quality of the publications themselves (from less-than-legible mimeographs to large clean-copy editions, the rival of any Western newspaper in this respect), the monotony of the press under Communism had given way to impressive, almost dazzling, variety.10

Three Newspapers in Profile

The present study focuses on three newspapers that have staked out distinct niches for themselves in the evolving milieu of the press in Russia: Nezavisimaya gazeta, Delovoi mir and Panorama. Each had been established during the final stage of the communist system as a 'post-communist' newspaper. That is, firstly, the very existence of these newspapers as members of the community of free publications pointed beyond the bounds of the (already collapsing) communist order, while the particular projects toward which their editorial boards inclined have involved the conscious creation of new social institutions on which a post-communist future might indeed be built. Secondly, this intention to create something new - a business culture in the case of Delovoi mir, a civic or political culture in the cases of Nezavisimaya gazeta and Panorama - had led to decisions in each instance to begin with something new, namely, a newspaper having no direct association with the then extant Soviet press. As such, the variant of post-communist newspapers represented by these publications contrasts with others - say, Moscow News or Argumenty i fakty - which had evolved in that direction during the period of glasnost before establishing their full independence from the Communist authorities when the Law on the Press had made this possible.

To date, there has been little scholarly work published in the West concerning those newspapers in the former USSR that have evolved into post-communist publications11 and, to my knowledge, nothing has yet appeared on newspapers that began as such. The present study, then, has at least some of the hallmarks of the exploratory. The selection of the three newspapers in the sample has been influenced by this consideration: namely, to examine the origins and development of Russia's post-communist press by means of case studies comparing three publications whose differences one from another are large enough to suggest that they collectively represent a relatively large cross-section of new newspapers in that country. The analysis here includes 16 interviews with editors-in-chief, department heads and correspondents conducted prior to (April-June 1991), during (August 1991) and after (November 1991) the coup and the succeeding anti-communist revolution.12 The intention is to document a portion of the transition process to a post-communist Russia as reflected in the character and work of these newspapers. We begin with what has become the most successful of the three, Nezavisimaya gazeta (NG).

During the summer of 1990, the idea of establishing a 'newspaper of the Western type' began to circulate among a number of journalists in Moscow. Dissatisfied by both the limited news coverage and lack of editorial independence common to official newspapers such as Pravda and Izvestiya, as well as by the moralizing, didactic tone featured in weeklies more given to criticizing the communist order, such as Mos-kovskie novosti and Literaturnaya gazeta, these journalists decided that it would be far easier to realize their goal by founding a new paper than by attempting to reform one of the existing ones. Supplied with makeshift premises and a loan of 300,000 roubles by the Moscow City Soviet, NG began publication on 21 December 1990, putting out three editions per week with press runs of 150,000 copies. Initially printed by Izvestiya only in Moscow and available only there and in Leningrad, NG expanded during its first year of publication to four, and then five, issues per week, appearing in press runs of 270,000 which have been printed in Moscow, South Sakhalin, Tbilisi, Rostov-on-Don and Kemerevo.13 Along with the fact that it counted some 70,000 subscribers after its first year of operations, this plurality of print sites has made it a national newspaper. Moreover, since advertising revenues have always counted for only a small portion of TVG's financing, growth has been sustained by increases in its readership who in the main have been purchasing the paper either at a kiosk of Soyuzpechat (the state distribution network, which was reorganized as Rospechat after the dissolution of the USSR) or from one of NG's own street vendors.

NG began publication with a staff numbering about 100 who were divided more or less evenly into journalists and correspondents on the one hand, and support staff and management on the other. The Editor-in-Chief, Vitalii Tret'yakov, as well as his deputy, Il'ya Baranikas, had previously served as journalists and commentators with Moskovskie novosti, as had a number of others on NG's staff. By means of networks of friends and acquaintances, other journalists from publications as varied as Literaturnaya gazeta, Kommersant, Sovetskii tsirk and Moskovskii avtotransportnik found their way to employment with this new venture. Their numbers were supplemented by a fresh crop of graduates from the Journalism Faculty of Moscow State University, a fact that highlights the related aspects of youth and journalistic orientation that are among NG's salient characteristics.

Nearly the entire staff of NG is under the age of forty. In comparing themselves with other newspapers, journalists are likely to point to this fact as indicative of the particular 'Western' direction that they pursue. As one remarked:

A number of leading journalists at Literaturnaya gazeta wanted to work for us. People from the older generation. We told them: 'No'. We didn't want that old, opinionated style in our newspaper ... Our youthfulness also shows up in our language, our style. The other day a journalist from Moskovskii komsomolets pointed this out to some of us. We hadn't noticed ourselves, but there it was in the text [copy], a lot of youth slang and jargon such as you'd never find in a newspaper of the more traditional type.

The tension between the aim of achieving a universalistic orientation for NG - free of moralism and partiality, and symbolized by the adjective 'Western' - and the particular youthful cohort with their own subcultural proclivities that has been attempting to realize this objective helps to explain why, in the eyes of some of its journalists themselves, NG 'has still not become a Western-style newspaper'.

But there may be deeper reasons for this as well, rooted in the context in which the newspaper functions. As one respondent remarked during an interview, 'in the Soviet Union, objectivity and opposition are really the same thing'. To Western ears, of course, this smacks of paradox. Even so, however, the paradox is revealing. On the one hand, the attempt to achieve objectivity appears as a form of opposition to the longstanding conventions of Soviet journalism in which those working for the press have been trained to play the role of educator, if not propagandist. When those at NG speak of their intention to create a 'Western-style newspaper', they seem to connote above all their rejection of the didactic, moralizing posture endemic to that role. On the other hand, objectivity presupposes a normative context. In this respect, we are reminded by students of Western mass media that 'objectivity' in news reporting is rendered by a particular formating of events in such a way that dominant cultural norms and myths are encoded directly into the news accounts themselves. Reporting, therefore, can assume the appearance of objectivity since the particular normative constructs on which it depends are already anchored in the consciousness of the audience. The news and the meaning of the news tend to form a seamless whole; as such, no 'subjective' movement is detectable on the surface.14 What position is available to the journalist when the normative context of the social order, as in contemporary Russia, is disintegrating or under attack? How might objectivity be rendered under these circumstances? The tack taken by NG has been to lace its accounts with an ample measure of irony and criticism. These signal a distance between the writer and his subject; they alert the reader not to take the events or personages in question at face value, just as they invite him or her to share in the scepticism evinced by the writer himself. In so doing, the journalist may be providing valuable pieces of context that enrich an understanding of the event in question, even while he or she would be departing from canons of objectivity associated with the Western model towards which he or she self-consciously aspires.15

Much like NG, Delovoi mir (DM) was founded with the explicit intention of introducing a Western-style newspaper into Russia. In this case, however, the project was to create a business daily along the lines of the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. As DM's editor-in-chief put it during an interview:

It had become obvious by 1980 that our socialist economy was doomed, that we were living under dogmas and illusions, and that we had to make the transition to a so-called 'normal market economy'. However, we weren't prepared for this, so we began to study Western experience and methods. We realized that a market means a number of various structures and sources of information -something completely different from our form of organization even up to the present time. And we weren't prepared for this transition. Neither the radio, nor the press nor the agricultural instructor had done anything [to prepare us]. So, as a journalist, I became interested in organizing a newspaper of a new type ... Our newspaper's role has been to play a part in the information network needed to undergird the new economic complex in the USSR.

DM was founded on 11 May 1990 by a consortium composed of a number of the USSR's top governmental, economic and financial institutions, including the Ministry of Finance, the State Committee of Material and Technical Supply, the Ministry of Communications, the Petro-Chemical Bank, the Union of Managers and others.16 With the backing of these institutions, DM was able to begin publication on an episodic basis even prior to the enactment of the Law on the Press. By the end of 1990, it had achieved one of its major objectives, appearing in handsome copy across the USSR as the country's first business daily.

Drawing its professional staff of some 50 (plus another 100 or so who occupy technical and support roles) from older publications such as Sotsialisticheskaya industriya and Stroitel'naya gazeta, DM presents all the appearances one might associate with the business press: its offices are tidy and, housed in a rather grand building in the centre of Moscow, almost palatial; its personnel are fashionably dressed; the work pace flows rather evenly between 9.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. In all these respects, DM contrasts markedly with both NG and Panorama, for whom the word 'casual' might be applied to the look of the premises, the dress of the staff and personal interaction in the work-place. Equally, the word 'intense' comes to mind when reflecting on observations of the way in which journalists at NG or Panorama approach their subject matter. Those at DM seem much more subdued in this regard, discharging their functions with a more businesslike demeanour.

As a business, DM has depended on advertising for the bulk of its revenues. By spring 1991 it counted over 30,000 subscribers with another 90,000 or so copies sold at the kiosks of Soyuzpechat. By the autumn of that year, however, subscriptions had tapered off dramatically (to about 5,000) while daily sales had also plummeted by a factor of two or three.

DM's readership has been described in somewhat different ways by those on its staff. While some refer to the corpus of readers as 'businessmen, practical economic actors, not the kind of people who go to demonstrations [for] they haven't the time to waste on that', others, perhaps less sanguine, lament the 'small circle' of popularity surrounding the newspaper, labelling DM as a 'director's newspaper'. Opinions among the staff vary, too, on the extent to which DM has measured up to its own ambition of becoming a 'Western-style business newspaper'. The more critical among them argue that the decision to go over to daily publication had been taken prematurely, that insufficient preparations had been made for this transition and that the staff has been overextended in attempting to provide suitable copy on a daily basis, invariably lowering the quality of the newspaper in the process.

But context, again, seems to be a contributing factor to these problems. For at the heart of DM's difficulties has been the fact that, as a business daily, it finds itself in the position of attempting to assist in bringing about what such a newspaper would in the first instance depend on - namely, a business class, a business culture and the like. In a manner analogous to NG's paradoxical relation to objectivity and opposition, the editorship of DM defines its journalistic orientation as 'objective' in so far as it includes 'an historical perspective relating to the positive aspects of the development of market relations'. Consequently, this orientation is based on something that does not (yet) exist, but something that it seeks consciously to develop. On the one hand, it does so by providing its readers with business-related information on a timely basis after the fashion of the world business press. Its staff regard DM's short, concise coverage of investment opportunities, the provisions of extant legislation relevant to them and other factors affecting the business climate as perhaps the outstanding feature of the newspaper, something unique in Russia today. But, at the same time, the low level of business culture that prevails in Russia has meant that Russian businessmen, the newspaper's primary audience, seem to have derived far less from this information than have their foreign counterparts entering the Russian market. As a member of the editorial board commented: 'Our businessmen just don't respond to this information the way you might expect; but Westerners are very quick to use this service of ours.' On the other hand, the emphasis on creating a business newspaper that will stimulate the development of a business culture has led to some questionable decisions that we take up below, under the topic of repression and restriction.

Unlike NG and DM, the third newspaper in our sample, Panorama, was founded with neither an institutional sponsor nor a complement of established journalists looking for a new outlet for their energies. In the spring of 1989, Aleksandr Verkhovskii, Anatolii Papp and Andrei Vasi-levskii, who had been putting out a bulletin (Grazhdanskoe dostoinstvo) that was the organ of the budding Constitutional Democratic movement, decided to join forces with Vladimir Pribylovskii and Sergei Mitrokhin of Khronograf (a samizdat weekly devoted to covering the emerging 'informal' movement in the USSR)17 in order to start a political newspaper that would also feature topics concerned with culture and ecology. The result, Panorama, drew in numerous individuals from among leading activists in the country's 'informal' movement who contributed episodically to its columns.

In its original incarnation, Panorama regarded itself as a newspaper 'by, about and for "informals" ... differing from similar samizdat publications in the fact that it attempted to be interesting and analytical, not just the kind of vulgar agitation that you get on the street'. Another (former) member of its staff has added that the use of language set Panorama apart from the many other publications of its type. 'We attempted to use a more literary language, one that would convey a more critical, reflective attitude' in its coverage. By early 1990, Panorama was appearing twice monthly in photocopied editions that had grown from 1,000 to 5,000 in number. However, a sudden and precipitous drop in sales, followed by an attempt to have the newspaper printed on typographical equipment - a decision that resulted in the disaster of a completely illegible issue - forced a temporary suspension of publication.

While searching for another firm to do their printing - a process that took over two months - the staff at Panorama began to rethink their entire project, and concluded that it was time to appeal to a larger audience by changing their focus from the 'informal' movement to, in the words of one member, 'what was actually going on in the country at large'. In its second incarnation, Panorama became Russia's first fully-independent (and duly registered) periodical devoted to the analysis of public affairs, appearing once or twice monthly in editions of reasonably good print quality in press runs of up to 100,000 copies.18 Relying on a network of contacts from associations made among those in the 'informal' movement - many of whom were by now leading figures in government and in new political parties - Panorama has been able to maintain a unique quality for itself by supplying often detailed information not available through other sources in a format emphasizing analysis as much as reporting. To the surprise of the staff, a large section of Panorama'?, readership has included members of Russia's new business classes who have been attracted by the newspaper's subdued and gently ironic style.

Much of the character of Panorama is entwined with this question of style. Its core staff of five, and most of the dozen or so individuals who contribute items or articles from time to time, have no formal training as journalists. This fact has been apparent in the contrast between the conduct of editorial board meetings at Panorama and, say, NG. Whereas the latter are given over entirely to a discussion of the content of recent issues and projections for future ones, those at Panorama have more resembled seminars involving story construction, the clarity of a given phraseology, the effectiveness of a certain leader for an article, or the validity of one or another interpretation. The small size of the editorial collective, along with the close working and personal relations they have built, probably accounts for some of this. None the less, the level of detail entertained during these long discussions suggests a situation in which these journalists have been learning their craft as they practise it.19 As a consequence, certain aspects of their intellectual milieu are reinforced rather than challenged. Among them is the element of Panorama's rather sophisticated prose style. When asked if this style does not in fact prohibit the newspaper from reaching a broader audience, one member of the editorial board has replied simply that 'we have done what we wanted to do'. Another has noted in this respect that 'we work in the Russian tradition, and maybe we are not really a newspaper in the Western sense of the term'. Yet, in another sense, those at Panorama point to a certain strength accruing to the newspaper because of its relatively erudite style. 'Objectivity is a problem for all newspapers in Russia today,' as one put it, 'because a social consensus on fundamental values is missing. I don't see how we can reach consensus without first developing a civilized discourse in which arguments and criticisms can be made. We would like to think that Panorama is contributing to that process.'

Repression and Restrictions

Although the USSR's Law on the Press established the principle of press freedom, practice was often another matter entirely. The authorities at the State Committee on the Press were known to drag out interminably the registration process for independent newspapers,20 and then arbitrarily evict from their premises representatives of papers that been duly registered21 or withhold distribution rights.22 Authorities at lower levels also relied on a variety of means for impeding the progress of fledgling - and even long established23 - publications. Principal among them appears to have been the disruption of distribution, either by means of overt police harassment24 or through the more discreet method of simply warehousing all or a portion of the copies shipped to a given region for sale and then, after a suitable time had elapsed, returning them to the central offices of Soyuzpechat as 'unsold'.25 Among the three newspapers in our sample, Panorama experienced the largest measure of adversity during the final year of the communist order. After the publication of a series of articles on extreme right-wing political organizations in Russia, the editor-in-chief began to receive threatening letters from 'Russian patriots'. His apartment was then set ablaze on 16 May 1990. The following September, in the wake of another article on the right wing and more threatening letters, a fire consumed the apartment of another member of the editorial board.26 No police investigation ensued in either instance, while numerous letters from the newspaper to the office of Moscow's Procurator went unanswered. Panorama, too, had been victimized by Soyuzpechat's practice of warehousing, rather than retailing, copies of the newspaper and then returning these as 'unsold'. But the greatest threat to the continued existence of Panorama has been the skyrocketing price of newsprint.

In the face of reductions in the total supply of paper,27 an accelerating pace of inflation and the communist party's appropriation of the lion's share of available newsprint,28 the increase in the price of paper on the market had climbed from 40 to 50 times in the year following the adoption of the Law of the Press.29 NG was little affected by this problem because it was able, through the intercession of its sponsor, the Moscow City Soviet, to purchase paper at a subsidized rate. DM, too, found ways around the difficulty, both by exploiting its network of institutional associations and by bartering services with suppliers. Consequently, whereas these newspapers were able to purchase newsprint for as little as 2,000 roubles per ton during the winter of 1991, the price confronting sponsorless Panorama had risen prohibitively to 8,000 roubles. In January 1991, Panorama therefore temporarily suspended publication.

Although the institutional associations enjoyed by NG and DM had enabled them to avoid the exorbitant cost of newsprint, these same associations have in other ways led to certain difficulties. Journalists at NG smile at the storm of protest and angry letters to the editor that followed their first critical remarks on the leaders of Russia's democratic movement. 'Since the Moscow Soviet sponsored us,' one remarked, 'a lot of people assumed that this was the democratic paper and, therefore, it had no right to criticize democrats.' Subsequently, the Russian Minister for the Press and Mass Information threatened NG with criminal prosecution for publishing remarks made by then deputy prime minister of Ukraine, Konstantin Masik, to the effect that Boris Yeltsin had been assessing the possibility of a nuclear strike against his country.30 In this case, the inconvenience of the reporting for those charged with the affairs of state, rather than any comment or criticism on the part of the newspaper, has been sufficient to provoke the authorities to repression.

In the case of DM, restrictions on press freedom have come about in part as a result of an editorial orientation towards business to the exclusion of politics. This orientation was captured in the comments of the editor-in-chief who remarked during an interview: 'It is better to pick up litter than to go to a political demonstration'. It was also noted by some journalists who complained that many on the editorial board were longstanding members of the communist party (some of whom maintained close contact with important figures in the hierarchy) whose conservative orientations did little to expedite their self-proclaimed project of developing a Western-style business daily. As one put it:

These people don't like many of the political changes. Moreover, they still have their old habits, their old mentality. They judge ideas or stories not from the perspective of the readers [and] what they would like, but from the perspective of superiors. For them, everything is according to instructions [po zakazu]. So, they prevent the publication of many interesting and important things by saying: 'This is not business, this is politics.' And that's the end of it. The most egregious instance of DM's self-censorship involved its refusal to print an article submitted on 11 August 1991 by its legal and economics correspondent, Yurii Kon, that laid out in considerable detail a series of critical policy differences that had emerged during the previous year between Mikhail Gorbachev (shortly to be kidnapped) and then Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov (shortly to be among his kidnappers). The fact that Pavlov, while Minister of Finance of the USSR, was among the members of the consortium that founded DM may have influenced this decision. But whatever the reason, the prescience of Kon's analysis coming just a week before the August coup, along with the public exposure that ensued for him during the coup and its aftermath,31 amounted to a major embarrassment for DM and contributed further to the demoralization of many on its staff.

The Press and the August Coup

Public communication, always essential to the political life of any society, acquired added significance in Russia during the seizure of power by the eight-man junta that installed itself as the government of the USSR on the morning of 19 August 1991. Control of the means of communication was essential to the strategy of the junta, just as access to these means was essential to the counter-strategy of the Russian leadership. In this respect, the latter's strategy might be regarded, above all, as the establishment and maintenance of symbolic boundaries around the entity, Russia, mediated by a continuous summons to the citizenry to defend these boundaries. The celebrated barricades erected around the seat of Russian government, the 'White House', as well as the concentric human chains of citizens standing, arms locked, in its defence, were cases in point. Equally, Yeltsin's Proclamation to the Russian People, issued on the first day of the coup, along with his subsequent decrees placing all organizations on Russian soil under the jurisdiction of the Russian government, can be taken as variants of the same strategy. In all these instances, symbolic lines distinguished 'us' from 'them'. The real drama of those three days in August consisted in the innumerable decisions made by soldiers, their officers, KGB units, government officials and ordinary citizens to place themselves on one side or another of these boundaries.

The coup leaders, of course, had drawn their own lines. With respect to the all-important institutions of mass communications, they defined a set of organizations such as Central Television, the news agency TASS, and a number of newspapers (Pravda, Izvestiya, Sovetskaya Rossiya and others) as being reliable for their purpose of limiting all political communication to statements aimed at building support for the coup d'etat and discouraging any notion that resistance to it either existed or was in any way possible.32 Sanctioned operation for the remainder of the mass media was immediately suspended. But the overwhelming majority of those thus silenced by the USSR's new government made the choice to side with Russia.33

The origins and development of the three newspapers in our sample might already suggest something about the posture each was to assume during the coup d'etat. As independent newspapers over which the USSR's authorities exercised no direct control, all were included in the category of suspended publications under the state of emergency that had been declared. However, each responded quite differently to this common condition. Whereas DM abided by the junta's orders, NG and Panorama - in somewhat different ways - waged an active resistance. Inasmuch as the conditions prevailing during the three days of the August coup amounted to a kind of political X-ray machine laying bare the internal make-up of actors and institutions alike, we might examine in some detail the conduct of these three newspapers, looking for indications of how the directions that they had hitherto pursued led them to adopt the decisions that they took during the coup d'etat and how their actions during those critical moments have affected their own futures in a post-communist Russia.

NG's initial response to the coup d'etat was to continue normal operations under extraordinary circumstances. Deprived of its regular print facilities and engaged in what proved to be a futile search to locate an alternative, the staff none the less spent the first day of the coup assembling an issue of the newspaper focused on the military takeover.

By evening, as armoured personnel carriers had begun taking up positions around the premises, the staff turned their attention to putting out a flyer that would be photocopied and distributed that night and the next morning by the newspaper's regular street vendors. This effort was among the first at establishing a communications link between resistance to the junta and the capital's population.

As the second day of the coup began, Muscovites gathered around these flyers, posted in metro stations and other intersections of pedestrian traffic, to read of the major events that had unfolded over the previous 24 hours and to exchange opinions on them. Often enough, arguments would flare up, leaving anyone moving around the city that day with the ineluctable impression that Moscow's 'Hyde Park' - that footpath off Pushkin Square where spirited political discussions can be observed in all but the most inclement weather - had reproduced itself in every quarter of the capital.

On the morning of the second day, the editor of NG joined his colleagues from ten other banned newspapers assembled in the offices of Moskovskie novosti to discuss the possibility of combining forces and publishing a newspaper in defiance of the state of emergency. The result, Obshchayagazeta, appeared on the same day in a four-page photocopied edition, with a second edition produced on the printing facilities that one of the participants, Kommersant, had managed to secure. Those collaborating in the production of Obshchaya gazeta were also linked to the daily, Chas pik, which transmitted news to the citizens of Leningrad (St Petersburg). During its brief existence, Obshchaya gazeta became a standard fixture on the walls of metro stations and other public places, particularly in Moscow but also in other Russian cities. It provided the news to literally millions of people in spite of the news blackout ordered by the junta. Its final number, printed in eight pages on the facilities of Krasnaya zvezda, appeared on 22 August.34 In addition to working with Obshchaya gazeta, however, NG also managed to put out its own four-page photocopied edition on 21 August along with other informational flyers. With four staff members working at the information centre inside the Russian 'White House', its own reporters patrolling the streets of Moscow and information supplied by Postfaktum - another news agency that refused orders to close down - its accounts were remarkably accurate as well as timely.

As noted, Panorama had been forced out of business in January by the prohibitive cost of newsprint and was, therefore, not a functioning newspaper when the state of emergency was declared. For the previous eight months its staff had been writing news dispatches for the fledgling Agency for News and Information (ANI) and earning incomes in other related pursuits.35 As a consequence of these avocational endeavours, some members of the editorial board were in the Rostov region on an archeological dig when news of the coup broke. They immediately took the train to Moscow to find their colleagues at the editorial offices busy collecting information over the telephone from ANI correspondents around the country and - along with their old associates from the 'informal' group, Grazhdanskoe dostolnstvo (now the Party of Constitutional Democrats) - hard at work on a political leaflet for immediate distribution in the capital. Some members then made their way to the Russian 'White House', but were denied entry on the basis that the press centre there was already overcrowded. Linking up with friends and acquaintances from past days in the 'informal' movement, these journalists spent the remainder of that critical night of 20-21 August assisting in the organization of the civilian defence of the 'White House' and periodically telephoning reports on the situation there back to their colleagues at ANI.36

Whereas NG responded to the coup as a newspaper whose aim to become a 'normal' Western-style publication had been politicized by the conditions in which it found itself, and Panorama reacted by returning to its publicist roots in the 'informal' democratic movement, DM simply complied with instructions from the junta to close down all operations. The reasoning behind the decision to do so, however, became a contentious issue among the staff. The authoritative explanation has been that to publish would have meant, willy-nilly, to take sides in the conflict between the new government of the USSR and the government of Russia, and that such a political role was not appropriate for a business newspaper. Others, however, have called attention to the links between DM and then Prime Minister, Valentin Pavlov, and members of the Politburo of the Russian Communist Party, and have argued that a tacit split on the editorial board over the question of whom to support was resolved in favour of a tacit consensus to do nothing. Whatever the motives behind the decision to remain inactive, the 'neutrality' rule was actively enforced and led to angry recriminations and resignations in the wake of the coup's collapse.37

Conclusions and Perspectives

The defeat of the August coup signalled the final act in Russia's transition to a post-communist society. We have observed how the independent press has been a harbinger of, and active participant in, this transition itself. Hitherto, the issue of press freedom had been associated with the struggle against the communist regime - both in the narrow sense of removing the restrictions that this regime imposed on publication and in the broader context of developing that quintessentially democratic institution, a free press, on which the political life of any modern society would depend. In the aftermath of communism's defeat, what directions might we foresee for the development of a free press in Russia? Conditions external and internal to the three newspapers on which we have focused supply at least the beginnings of an answer to this question.

First, it seems highly unlikely that Russia's present government will succeed in reintroducing overt political restrictions on the press. Having adopted for themselves a democratic identity during their protracted conflict with the now-defeated order, the legitimacy of the current government appears too closely connected to a pledge honouring the principles and practices of democracy for a repressive policy towards the press to get very far. This much is visible in the way that NG has parried the threat of criminal prosecution issued by the Russian Minister for the Press (referred to above) and in Yeltsin's rescinding of the ban that he had imposed on those newspapers that had supported the coup, once a spirited protest against this action had been mounted by the editors of those newspapers that had actively opposed the putsch.38

Secondly, if formal restrictions issuing from the holders of political power appear unlikely at the moment, those stemming from conditions internal to one or another newspaper do not. In this respect, we have already had occasion to comment on the restraints that DM has introduced on itself on the grounds that it is a business newspaper and should therefore steer clear of politics. Another, more ramified, version of self-restriction was mentioned by a member of NG's staff in contrasting his newspaper with its much larger competition, Izvestiya:

The independence of Izvestiya, like big newspapers in America, is compromised by its proximity to power. That is, it has excellent channels of information in the government that it - and I know this for a fact in more than one case - does not want to jeopardize by publishing certain things ... Another factor here is the generational difference. Those working at Izvestiya are older than us. Their generation thinks that the current government is 'their' government; we simply regard it as the government. That's why we are more oppositional, more independent. Our independence is, of course, limited in various ways, but it is not as narrowly circumscribed as that of Izvestiya.

Pursuing further this association between the prominence of a given newspaper and the tendency to refrain from printing certain things, one member of Panorama's staff noted that press freedom in Russia is 'not unlike that found in the West. There is a tendency towards self-censorship in the face of the new power [government], so we have achieved freedom of the press in a practical, rather than a Utopian sense.' Another, elaborating on this idea, remarked that: 'There is still very little that is published concerning political leaders. Who they are, their biographies. This is because we are talking here about a press accustomed to the control of the authorities, not about one [guided by] public opinion.' Panorama, given its origins and editorial orientation, has attempted to play such a role by profiling contemporary political leaders and featuring controversial topics in unconventional ways. Its July 1991 issue, for instance, contains an extremely unflattering portrait of Russia's vice-president, Aleksandr Rutskoi, detailing his association with Russia's ultra right-wing 'patriotic' movement, his anti-intellectualism, intolerance and penchant for demagogic hyperbole.39 Similarly, Panorama has specialized in covering the right wing itself, and over time has adopted a rather non-judgemental tone, allowing right-wing leaders to speak for themselves and readers to draw their own conclusions.40 Although the threats and acts of arson previously occasioned by the earlier, more overtly negative coverage of the right wing have ceased, one result of this new orientation has been a difficulty in getting the paper printed. In the words of one staff member:

Since we don't have much money to begin with, we are always looking for a printer that we can afford. We thought we had solved our problem when Moscow State University agreed to print our July [1991] number. They didn't ask for so much [money]. Then, when we took the copy to them, they refused because of the articles on Russia's right-wing movement. They said that they would not take part in spreading fascist ideas. So now the censor is gone and the printers act as censor.

In conclusion, we might underline this episode as symptomatic of the restrictions faced by the Russian press in the current period. On the one hand, political culture in Russia has had precious little time to develop. Older habits of mind have not yet made much room for the virtue of tolerance or extended adequate appreciation either to the value of a free exchange of ideas per se or to the notion that one might, indeed, learn from one's partner in debate. This condition was mentioned in one context or another by members of each newspaper in the sample during our interviews. Along with it, each respondent added that it was the obligation of his or her newspaper to work actively to dislodge those older habits of mind, and thereby to contribute to the development of society's political culture. Although a moment's reflection would indicate that this would be an enduring task for the press in any democratic country, its degree of difficulty and urgency would appear to be especially pronounced in the Russian context.41

On the other hand, material conditions can be expected to exercise an increasingly restrictive influence as state subsidies - either direct ones, as in the case of NG, or indirect ones, as in that of DM - are terminated in favour of market relations. Ironically, Panorama, which has experienced the largest measure of difficulty among our three newspapers in this respect, may have prepared itself most effectively for the transition to the market. It has already been practising for some time the very resourcefulness that has been featured in the Russian government's policy for assisting the press during the transition - namely, to undertake ancillary 'productive and commercial activities' in order to fund the costs of publication.42 Similarly, it plans to resume regular publication in editions of 100,000 to 200,000 distributed in specialized markets - especially through newspaper kiosks located in or near universities - and expects to improve substantially its position vis-a-vis competitors once newsprint is available to all publishers at the same market price. NG and DM, managing much larger operations, may well find the market transition to be more difficult.43 One knowledgeable observer has even raised serious doubts as to whether any national daily can survive this transition and the attendant inflation of costs.44 In this respect, Russia's post-communist press would seem again to reflect in microcosm the conditions prevailing in its context. Whether there is room in tomorrow's Russia for erudite journals of public affairs in the Russian tradition, Western-style newspapers or business dailies is a question linked to the outcome of the post-communist transition.



1 Peter Kenez, The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

2 Mark W. Hopkins, Mass Media in the Soviet Union (New York: Pegasus, 1970); Ellen Mickiewicz, Media and the Russia Public (New York: Praeger, 1981); Thomas F. Remington, The Truth of Authority (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988); Jan S. Adams, 'Critical Letters to the Soviet Press: An Increasingly Important Forum', in D.D. Schulz and J.S. Adams (eds.), Political Participation in Communist Systems (New York: Pergamon, 1981), pp.108-36; Stephen White, 'Political Communications in the USSR: Letters to Party, State and Press', Political Studies, Vol.31, No.l (1983), pp.43-60; Nick Lampert, 'Petitioners and Patrons: Citizens' Complaints in the Soviet System', Coexistence, Vol.22, No.l (1985), pp.59-78.

3 I have attempted to deal with this facet of power in state socialist systems in my 'Conceptualizing Political Power in the USSR: Patterns of Binding and Bonding', Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol.18, No., (1985), pp.207-26.

4 'Zakon Soyuza Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik о pechati i drugikh sredstvakh massovoi informatsii', Izvestiya, 20 June 1990.

5 Nikolai Fedorov, a member of the Supreme Soviet's Committee on Legislation, Legality and Law and Order that fashioned the draft bill eventually adopted by the legislature, has described some of these struggles in 'Ot dekreta do zakona', Narodnyi deputat, 1990, No.5, pp.70-76; and in 'Still Trying to Influence', Moscow News, 1990, No. 11 (25 March-1 April), p. 14. Some consultants to his Committee have published more detailed accounts of this process: see Mikhail Fedotov, 'Kak oni nas pravili', Demokraticheskaya Rossiya, 1990, No.l (July), pp.1 and 10; Yuri M. Baturin, 'Glas-nosf Struggles: An Insider's Account', Meeting Report: Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Vol.VII, No. 17 (1990).

6 'President Wants to Suspend the Law on the Press', Moscow News, 1991, No.4 (27 Jan. - 3 Feb.), p.6.

7 Victor Yasmann, 'Can Glasnosf Be Reversed?', Radio Liberty Report on the USSR, 56/ 91 (24 Jan. 1991), pp.26-9.

8 G. Shipit'ko, 'V zashchitu glasnosti', Izvestiya, 25 March 1991. The registration process, however, appears often to have been a contentious one with various organizations struggling to receive the official registration of, and thereby control over, the particular publication in question. On this matter see G. Alimov, 'Bitva titanov', ibid., 23 Aug. 1990; idem, 'Bitva titanovprodolzhaetsya', ibid., 2 Sept. 1990; idem, 'Zhurnal "Znamya" zaregistritovan', ibid., 4 Sept. 1990.

9 'A Newspaper Boom', Moscow News, 1991, No.4 (27 Jan. - 3 Feb.) p.15.

10 For an overview of the various types of publications that have appeared and of the groups and organizations sponsoring them, see Vera Tolz, 'Alternative Press in the USSR', Radio Liberty Report on the USSR, 195/91 (16 May 1991), p.6-11.

11 On this subject, see: Elizabeth Schillinger and Catherine Porter, 'Glasnost and the Transformation of Moscow News', Journal of Communication, Vol.41 (Spring, 1991), pp. 125-49; Owen V. Johnson, 'The Press of Change: Adaptation and Transformation', in Sabrina P. Ramet and David S. Mason (eds.), Communist and Post-Communist Systems (Boulder, CO: forthcoming).

12 The interview data are supplemented by observations recorded at meetings of editorial boards and, of course, by analyses of the 'text' of each of the newspapers in question.

13 Vitalii Tret'yakov, 'Nezavisimost' - eto prekrasno', Nezavisimaya gazeta, 21 Dec. 1991, p.l; 'Kratkii kurs istorii "NG" v zerkale pressy', ibid., p.8.

14 On this general problem, see John Hartley, Understanding News (London: Methuen, 1982); John Fiske, Introduction to Communication Studies (London: Methuen, 1982); David L. Altheide and Robert P. Snow, Media Logic (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1979); David Altheide, Media Power (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1985); Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

15 For a good illustration of this paradox of objectivity, see Sergei Parkhomenko's article, 'Gorbachev poprosil byudzhet vzaimy', Nezavisimaya gazeta, 21 Nov. 1991, p.l.

16 A list of the consortium's members was published in the inaugural issue, Delovoi mir, June 1990, p.2.

17 On the origins and development of Khronograf, see 'Ot redaktsii (dlya vnutrennogo pol'zovaniya)', Panorama, No.12 (Oct. 1990), p.6.

18 Moscow News, 1990, No.33 (26 Aug. - 2 Sept.), p.ll.

19 As one remarked during an interview: 'We have learned a lot through our work. One of the main things I have learned is the importance of working regularly. It is important to go, to observe and then to write immediately. Waiting around means that details get lost and information gets forgotten.'

20 See the editorial, 'Slovo k chitatelyam', Al'ternativa, No.3 (Sept. 1990), p.l.

21 The most notorious case of this type involved the independent news agency, Interfaks. See 'Zayavlenie agenstva "Interfaks"', Izvestiya, 12 Jan. 1991; Mikhail Komissar, 'Konflikt Gosteleradio - "Interfaks": Politika ili bukhgalteriya', ibid., 16 Jan. 1991; M. Berger, 'Fakt, kotoryi nashel Interfaks', ibid., 31 Aug. 1991.

22 Natalya Davydova, 'Educators', Moscow News, 1990, No.40 (14-21 Oct.), p.ll.

23 Pavel Gutionov has reported that local authorities were often revoking accreditation of Izvestiya's correspondents in the summer of 1990 for writing critical dispatches. In Alma Ata, the City Party Committee, apparently believing itself to be conforming to the behaviour expected 'in any civilized country', declared Izvestiya's correspondent persona поп grata: see Gutionov's 'Zhurnalist za reshetkoi plyuralizma', Izvestiya, 8 Oct. 1990.

24 'Slovo k chitatelyam', op. cit., p.2.

25 Andreii Kolesnikov, 'Return', Moscow News, 1991, No.31 (4-11 Aug.), p.5. Vladimir Nyrko, Editor-in-Chief of Al'ternativa, the newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Russia, reported similar problems in an interview (17 Nov. 1991).

26 'Khorosho gorim!', Panorama, No.10 (Sept. 1990), p.l.

27 V. Romanyuk, 'Budet li bumaga dlya zavtrashnego nomera gazety?', Izvestiya, 8 Feb. 1991; Victor Loshak, The Rise and Fall of Soviet Journalism?', Moscow News, 1990, No.36 (16-23 Sept.), p.3.

28 Mikhail Poltoranin, 'This Land Is My Land', Moscow News, 1990, No.44 (11-18 Nov.), p. 14; Leonid Prudovsky, 'A Paper Problem', ibid., p.5.

29 A. Shadrin, 'Tak kto vse-taki povysil tseny na pressu?', Argumenty ifakty, No.29 (July 1991), p.l.

30 See the front page editorials in Nezavisimaya gazeta, 29 and 30 Oct. 1991.

31 Kon's article, which was picked up by Rossiiskaya gazeta (16 Aug. 1991), made him something of a celebrity during and after the August coup. During the coup itself, he delivered commentary in the role of an expert over the radio station, Ekho Moskvy, and thereafter served in similar capacity for Western television networks filming documentaries on the coup.

32 Those orchestrating the mass media on behalf of the junta, however, committed some serious blunders in this respect. For instance, Central Television carried footage of both Yeltsin's speech from the steps of the 'White House' and brief interviews with citizens erecting barricades there on the first night of the coup. On how this footage slipped past the editorial censor, see Yelena Chekalova, 'Has Central TV Collapsed?', Moscow News, 1991, Nos.34-35 (1-8 Sept.), p.6.

Similarly, Izvestiya continued to publish during the coup, it is assumed because its editor, Nikolai Yefimov, could be counted on to support the junta. He proved unable to control his own organization, however, as a condensed version of Yeltsin's Proclamation to the Russian People appeared in its 20 August issue, thus informing the entire nation of the very resistance that the coup leaders sought to conceal. Moreover, Izvestiya's staff took an active hand in the resistance itself, putting out leaflets for the troops who had entered the capital, informing them of Yeltsin's Proclamation and urging them not to use violence against their fellow countrymen. On these questions, see 'Nashi novye starye "Izvestiya"', Izvestiya, 24 Aug. 1991; I. Ovchinnikova, 'Pri svete sovesti', ibid., 22 Aug. 1991.

33 It would be difficult to exaggerate the role played by broadcast and print media journalists in building counter-channels of information that served as a form of infrastructure for the Russian resistance. The news agency, Interfaks, for example, simply ignored the armed men who appeared on its premises during the initial hours of the coup with orders to cease all operations. Interfaks, utilizing its own national network of correspondents and in concert with the information centre established in the Russian 'White House', functioned throughout the duration of the coup as a source and relay for information. It supplied crucial information to the radio station, Ekho Moskvy, which, transmitting clandestinely from a number of sites, broadcast this information to the capital's population on a more or lest continuous basis. Moreover, Interfaks worked to neutralize the junta's real control over agencies - such as the USSR's Ministry of Internal Affairs - that were formally loyal to it by transmitting information directly to contacts within them: see, Berger, 'Fakt, kotoryi nashel Interfaks'.

34 A description of how Obshchaya gazeta operated during the coup can be found in 'Kak vypuskali "Obshchuyu gazetu"', Kommersant, 1991, No.34 (19-26 Aug.), p.3.

35 Out of their earnings the staff managed to finance small editions of Panorama (3,000 copies) in July and September 1991, distributed free of charge to a number of libraries and individuals in and around the world of politics; the purpose of this effort was to retain some presence for the newspaper during what its editor referred to as its 'diaspora' period.

36 Anatolii Papp, 'Liricheskii reportazh', Panorama, No.2 (Sept. 1991), pp.1-2.

37 Without the authorization of DM's editorial board, one correspondent at the newspaper was assisting in the publication of Obshchaya gazeta. In this capacity, he arrived on the premises of DM on 20 August in order furtively to make photocopies of Yeltsin's Proclamation and decrees for public distribution. Although the individual exercising custody over the photocopier waived the usual procedures for making copies and granted him access to the machine for this purpose, another colleague spotted what was taking place and reported it to the associate editor who intervened to confiscate the copies that had been made and forbid further use of the machine for that purpose.

38 V. Nadein, 'Zakryv gazety, El'tsin sovershil oshibku. On dolzhen sam ее ispravit', Izvestiya, 24 Aug. 1991; S. Livshin, 'I tol'ko "Glasnost"' bezmolvstvuet', ibid., 31 Aug. 1991.

39 Il'ya Kudryavtsev, 'Vitse-prezident Rossii dva goda nazad', Panorama, No.l (July 1991), pp.1-2.

40 Compare, for instance, Vladimir Pribylovskii's treatment of this topic in his 'Patrrrioty', Panorama, No.6 (June 1989), p.8; and 'Zakrytaya konferentsiya pravykh', ibid., No.3 (Feb. 1990), p.8.

41 One example of the difficulties confronting a free press in post-communist Russia would involve reports of a 'section for the press' that was quietly established in the office of Moscow's mayor by Gavriil Popov who held that post until resigning it in June 1992. According to these reports, this section monitors the press, categorizes newspapers as either 'friendly' or 'hostile' towards the mayor and arranges for rewards (including material assistance) and penalties (restrictions on access) to be dispensed accordingly. I have been unable to verify these reports. Yet even if they are exaggerated or altogether untrue, their very existence as unsubstantiated - yet, apparently, widely circulated - rumours would itself indicate something about politics and the press in post-communist Russia.

42 See the 'Instruction' of Russia's then first deputy Prime Minister, Gennadii Burbulis, 'O merakh zashchity pechati i sredstv massovoi informatsii na period perekhoda k rynochnym otnosheniyam', Rossiiskaya gazeta 1 Dec. 1991. In February 1992, President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree requiring firms producing paper to sell some 70 per cent of their output at reduced prices in return for state assistance with supplies and export: see Mikhail Lantsman, 'Ukaz prezidenta, vozmozhno, spaset pressu', Neza-visimaya gazeta 29 Feb. 1992, p.2; 'The Press', Moscow News, 1992, No.9 (1-8 March, p.2.

43 To be sure, DM and NG have also been cultivating their own ancillary 'productive and commercial activities'. On the latter's, see Tret'yakov, 'Nezavisimost' - eto prekrasno'; on the former's, see "'Delovoi mir" protiv "Rynka"', ibid., 14 Jan. 1992, p.4.

44 Martin Walker, 'Soviet Free Press: Can It Survive the Free Market?', The Nation, Vol.253 (25 Nov. 1991), pp.664-8.

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