On February 4, at 12 noon, I have visited Mr. Dmitri Runzhe, head of Department of Press and Information in Moscow’s Media, in his office on 19th floor of skyscraper on Novy Arbat. His office was new, comfortable, with modern furniture, even pencils were foreign. It contrasted drastically with my own office of Editor-in-Chief of radical newspaper “Limonka.” My so-called “office” have a look of revolutionary committee headquarters in 1918’s Russia. It’s located in a basement. But even from that totally awful place we are under menace of eviction now. Radical bureaucrats asking me to pay a “debt” of 137 millions of rubles. So I came to Mr. Runzhe in attempt to get some financial help. I have received no help, but we talked for an hour.
I discovered that Moscow’s “government,” as it called itself, have agreement with some Moscow’s newspapers. According to those agreements editorial boards of newspapers have took obligations to write about city life, and give the readers an information about decisions made in the offices of Moscow “government.” In exchange newspapers have received some money, they called hypocritically “subsidies.” The “Evening Moscow” [Vecherny Moskva] has received in 1996 7.6 billion rubles. “The Evening Club” has had 192 million. The absolutely insignificant weekly “Kuranty” got 2.4 billion rubles, “Moskovskaya Pravda” got 1.4 billion rubles, “Obschaya Gazeta” had 850 million. That is obvious that those publications stay at least loyal to Moscow’s “government.” I said to Mr. Runzhe that we in “Limonka” are also loyal to Mr. Luzhkov, but for the different reason: he is defending the right of Sevastopol to be and to stay the territory of Russia.
“Our budget for 1997 is already closed and fulfilled,” said Mr. Runzhe, and we parted. I left him in his brand new office.
“Limonka,” I believe it the only independent newspaper in Russia. Only few examples: from 1995 “Nezavisamaya Gazeta” is owned by joint-stock company, the biggest share belongs to concern “LogoVaz,” with Mr. Berezovsky in head of it. The bank “Moscow” (actually Moscow’s governmental bank) own crucial share of newspaper “Evening Moscow.” LukOil company bought 19.5% shares of “Izvestia.” The bank Menatep owns 70% of “Literaturnaya Gazeta” and 10% of shares of “Independent Media” company, who owns newspapers “Kapital” and “Moscow Times.” Even “Pravda” was bought few years ago by Greek investors.
The fact that banks are buying newspapers is rather world-widely spread practice. But Russian banks and companies are different. They all closely connected with political powers, they actually are political powers in itself, and to it Mr. Berezovsky is vivid illustration, as he is the chief-adjunt of “Security Council.” Moscow’s government buying good behavior of its press in another example and not innocent one. Because Mr. Luzhkov is possible candidate for president in only 3-1/2 years.
Investment in Russian press is not a commercial affair, but a huge dispense. To maintain daily publication of 100,000 copies, costs about from 10 to 15 millions of U.S. dollars. However, those spendings are not in vain. Most of investments in media been compensated during President Yeltsin’s election campaign, when President was in need of “politically correct” reporting of his campaign. Banks and companies owners of media profited from Yeltsin’s election and defeat of Zyuganov. It is probably that very fact of their existence would have been questioned on election day if Zyuganov win.
So, Russian media is bought. Only because we still have a multi-political society, Russia have not lost the freedom of expression. But we are losing it every day more. Who bit the hand that feeds one? Not a Russian press.
Edward Limonov is the author of several novels, short stories and collections of poetry, which have been translated into more than 20 languages around the world. His most famous works include “It’s Me, Eddie,” and “Memoirs of a Russian Punk.” He is currently the head of the National-Bolshevik Party, a far-right wing nationalist party in Russia.
This article was publihsed in Issue #3 of The eXile in March 1997.
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