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August 21, 2003 by AK

History of the Truth

Pravda means (the) Truth. The best name one could come up with for the voice of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I like those multiple genitives.

Initially, though, Pravda was a minor, half-legal opposition paperlet in pre-WW1 Russia. In fact, it had to change its name many times. Every time censors found its diatribes impermissible and closed it down, the paper would re-appear the next day under a different title. Pretty simple. At some point, it was named Rabochaya Pravda or something like that. Now with a modifier, it doesn’t sound that great, partially because of associations with Russkaya Pravda, “Russian Justice” (pravo is law or justice, pravilo is a rule or steer, pravda is truth — can you see the logic?), Yaroslav the Wise’s code of laws and Pestel’s draft constitution. When the Bolsheviks got on top, they established a local Pravda in each dirty little town: say, Uryupinskaya Pravda (Uryupinsk Truth no less) was the mouthpiece of the Uryupinsk party committee. And so on.

But Pravda unmodified for a title was a most ingenious find worthy of a marketing genius. But who was the first to start a Pravda? No, not the Bolsheviks. In 1864, Dostoyevsky applied for permission to publish a journal called, yes, Pravda. Permission was denied — the government reserved to itself exclusive rights to the truth. Dostoyevsky had to change the name to Epokha, The Epoch.


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