Yegor Yakovlev

Revolutionary editor of 'Moscow News'
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The Independent Online

Yegor Yakovlev was a revolutionary editor during Russian perestroika, turning what had been a propaganda sheet into the symbol of glasnost. Between 1986 and 1991 he dared to print what nobody in Moscow would print. Moscow News was originally a small English- language newspaper set up during the Second World War for foreigners living in Moscow. When Yakovlev was appointed editor-in-chief of the weekly, it had a tiny circulation of 35,000. By the time he left, it sold three million copies in eight languages - 250,000 copies in its Russian edition.

He was born in Moscow in 1930, son of Vladimir Yakovlev, the first head of the Cheka, the original predecessor of the KGB, in Odessa. Yegor graduated from Moscow Historical Archive Institute in 1954 and worked first at Pravda, and then from 1957 at Komsomolskaya Pravda and from 1959 to 1964 at Izvestia - at both the latter newspapers under Alexei Adzhubei, editor-in-chief, son-in-law of Nikita Khrushchev and king of the Soviet press.

In 1967 he was one of the founders of Zhurnalist, a magazine financed by the Journalists Union, and he edited it until 1972, when he returned to Izvestia, becoming its Prague correspondent. In 1986 Valentin Falin, the powerful chief of the Novosti Press Agency which controlled all Moscow newspapers, put him in charge of Moscow News.

From the beginning he crossed swords with the Politburo, deliberately ignoring their instructions. Some members demanded his dismissal. He caused a sensation when he printed opinions on Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika from the 10 most famous defectors and émigrés living in the West and accompanied this "anti-Soviet" stuff with his own unflattering commentaries. Pushkinskaya Square, off Gorky (now Tverskaya) Street where the building of Moscow News stands opposite its rival Izvestia, was crowded. Every Thursday people travelled even from faraway suburbs to read the latest issue. Knowing that people had no money Yakovlev began to display all pages on the outside walls by his offices. Each week the whole edition sold out.

In 1987 he published the first and uncensored Russian interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Yakovlev abolished all the taboos. He was the first Russian editor to expose KGB deeds on the pages of a Soviet newspaper and to defend religion in the Soviet Union.

I met him in July 1989 at his office. On the surface he was a quite mild and nice, highly intelligent, man but he was tough. He bitterly complained to me that he couldn't break into the KGB Archive to "expose them more" as he said. "Perhaps you could, you're a British reporter," he said. "I can't, I'll be deported," I said.

In August 1991, after the failure of the anti- Gorbachev putsch, he was appointed to run the Central TV and Radio Corporation, replacing Gorbachev's choice, Leonid Kravchuk (who had actually been on the side of the putshchists). Four months later the corporation was put under the control of Boris Yeltsin. In November 1992 Yeltsin was under fire from all sides - both at home and abroad - for the first Chechen war. When he saw on television uncensored reports from South Ossetia and Ingushetia, with civilians including children and elderly people killed, the furious Yeltsin dismissed him.

I saw him again at Moscow News in 1993 - he was now editing Obshchaya Gazeta, where all editors and journalists were non-party members, which would not have been possible before 1987, but still occasionally appeared at his old paper and even occupied his old office to receive visitors. He was very popular with his fellow journalists, though with a reputation for being uncompromising. I was then Moscow News' London correspondent under Victor Loshak, who replaced him. At that time his extremely handsome then 34-year old son, Vladimir, was a Moscow celebrity, being the proprietor of the seven newspapers and magazines in the powerful Kommersant group.

The following year I started working for Yakovlev junior's Kommersant, a sort of Russian Financial Times. For the first time stock exchange and company reports were printed - attracting business people from all over the country. The son had followed the father.

Jeanne Vronskaya