Sunday, August 2, 2015

Putin Doesn’t Need to Restore Glavlit to Impose Censorship, Malgin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 2 – On August 1, 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev ended the Soviet-system of pre-publication censorship. A year later, the Communist Party collapsed and the Soviet Union then disintegrated, an indication that authoritarian regimes cannot long survive without censorship and making Vladimir Putin’s moves to re-impose it in Russia all the more worrisome.

            Commenting on Gorbachev’s action, Andrey Malgin notes that “Putin has not introduced pre-publication censorship; but this isn’t required. A whole complex of laws and decrees have been adopted in recent years allowing for the closure of any organ of the press, TV channel or radio station not to mention website” (

            Roskomnadzor, the federal service for the supervision of the media, he writes, “is a worthy successor” of the Soviet Glavlit organization which imposed censorship for the CPSU. And the Russian justice ministry constantly updates its extremist materials list: in 2007, there were 14 items on it. Now, there are almost 3,000.

            Moreover, in Putin’s system, “the ministry of culture has taken on censorship functions” by its support for “religious obscurantism and the falsification of history.”  It in turn is assisted by the ministry of education and science which is involved in the creation of “’single textbooks.’”

            Things in short are not good, but on this anniversary of Gorbachev’s actions, Malgin suggests, it is well to remember just how much worse they can get by looking back on the Soviet approach to censorship. If one does that, he says, one sees that “Soviet power was largely held together by censorship.”

            Two days after the Bolsheviks took power, they issued a decree on the press which led to the closure of 470 papers over the next several months. The first Soviet constitution (1918) “guaranteed freedom of speech only ‘to workers and the poorest peasantry,’” effectively taking it away not only from everyone else but from those groups the party said it spoke for.

            And in 1922, the Soviet government set up the Chief Administration for the Administration of the Affairs of Literature and Publishing Houses in the Peoples Commissariat of Enlightenment. That agency, Glavlit, existed “without particular changes” until Gorbachev “cut off the limb on which he was sitting.”

Soviet censorship, Malgin says, “not only prohibited and permitted manuscripts but also carried out a form of secondary control – the destruction of books that had already come out. Up to the summer of 1990, book stores and libraries were sent lists of books and records” that had to be handed over to Glavlit for destruction.

This system allowed the Soviet regime to ensure that the media echoed and promoted the party line, whatever it was. Most notoriously perhaps, Malgin says, was the way in which Soviet censorship between the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and German invasion of the USSR blocked any criticism of Hitler or Nazism, even the most roundabout.

Obviously, Putin does not yet exercise that kind of control, and things slip through he won’t like. One did last week, and it is already being featured on opposition websites and Facebook: “RBK Daily” published a picture of Putin talking to Sergey Mironov under the headline, “The Triumph of Greyness” (

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