MOSCOW, AUG. 1 -- Glavlit, the Soviet censorship office, is dead. All hail the Chief Directorate for the Defense of State Secrets in the Media!
Censorship has been officially abolished in the Soviet Union under a liberal new press law that took effect today, granting any group of Soviet citizens the right to establish their own newspaper. But, like much Soviet legislation, the new law also contains some restrictive fine print that the bureaucrats are already learning to exploit.
As Soviet journalists hailed the dawning of a new "day of freedom," the erstwhile censors were busy changing the signs on their doors to reflect their new status as "media consultants." They have traded in their old rubber stamps bearing the laconic order "Permitted" for new rubber stamps that say "No state secrets divulged."
In the bad old pre-glasnost days, the censors had their own room in every major Soviet newspaper. It was their job to scan every article, not only for military and economic secrets, but also for evidence of political and ideological deviation from the Communist Party line. Without the censor's stamp, no article could be accepted for publication by the state printing houses.
Under the new law, many of the same people will occupy the same offices, but will suggest rather than decree. The new press law prohibits the mass media from divulging state secrets, calling for the overthrow of the constitutional order, sowing national or religious hatred or distributing pornography. So now, for an agreed fee -- the market economy is all the rage here these days -- the former censors will advise editors on the kinds of article that could get them in trouble.
"Censorship has been abolished, but Glavlit remains," said Mikhail Poltoranin, minister of information for the Soviet Union's Russian republic and a former newspaper editor. "They are trying to find a new role for themselves. One of these days, we hope to get rid of this institution as well."
Editors will be free to accept or reject the advice of the new media consultants, or even kick them off the premises. Those journalists who want a quiet life will probably be willing to let the Chief Directorate shoulder the responsibility for deciding what is and is not a state secret; others will refuse on principle to seek the approval of the former censors.
"We do not expect full freedom of the press to come in one day. It's a continuous fight," said Jadviga Juferova, acting editor of the Communist Party youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. "We're still not sure whether we will conclude an agreement with Glavlit. In fact, we have stopped showing them all our material for some time now."
Juferova cited the example of a long interview with a rogue KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, that the government said contained state secrets about Soviet espionage activities abroad. Taking advantage of the more relaxed atmosphere following the passage of the new press law, Komsomolskaya Pravda published the interview without getting Glavlit's prior approval.
In a front page article headlined "Goodbye Censorship," the government newspaper Izvestia today recalled unfondly the stifling atmosphere created by Glavlit in many newspaper offices. Before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, censorship was so strict that even some of the words of Soviet state founder Lenin were banned.
"I was able to leaf through the Glavlit book of forbidden subjects on several occasions," recalled political commentator Nikolai Andreev. "Practically everything was forbidden. Included in the list of what was forbidden to mention, directly or even indirectly, was the existence of that famous organization Glavlit."
The main worry of many Soviet editors these days is no longer old-style political censorship but new economic constraints. Recently, the government announced a 300 percent increase in the price of newsprint, a move that could force many small publications to go out of business or rely on state or Communist Party subsidies. Supplies of paper to some publications advocating radical reform, such as the literary journal Novy Mir, have been severely cut back.
"Politically, great possibilities are opening up for the Soviet press, but economically, the possibilities are much more limited," Poltoranin said, pointing out that about 80 percent of the newspapers in the country are owned by the Communist Party.
In a recent interview with the government newspaper Izvestia, Glavlit director Vladimir Boldirev seemed at pains to point out that he expects his organization will survive the end of censorship. In addition to its consulting role, Boldirev said, the Chief Directorate will also "control information coming from abroad" to stop the distribution of material prohibited by the new press law.
The new law provides for a scale of punishments for editors who publish state secrets or other prohibited material. First offenses are punishable by fines of up to 500 rubles -- two months' average salary -- and confiscation of the offending edition. Repeat offenders can be punished by fines of up to 1,000 rubles and the confiscation of all their printing equipment.