Thick Journals

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For more than two hundred years, Russian and Soviet "thick" journals (tolstye zhurnaly )a term alluding to their usually 200-plus pages per issue played the role of social and cultural trendsetters. Traditionally, prose works and poetry were first published in such journals and only later as books. Published among the literary works were nonfiction articles and essays on a large variety of topics. Literary reputations were fostered mainly through thick journals. Some, such as the twentieth century's Novyi mir, were considered more prestigious than others.

Edited by Gerhard Friedrich Mueller of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences, the first independent Russian journal was Ezhemesiachnye sochineniya, k pol'ze i uveseleniyu sluzhashchie (Monthly Writings Serving Purpose and Enjoyment; 17551797). Inspired by the principles of the European Enlightenment, it was followed by an ever-increasing number of similar undertakings on different subjects, including literature. Nikolai Karamzin's Moskovskii Zhurnal (Moscow Journal; 17911792) already could count Russia's leading authors among its contributors.

The early nineteenth century saw another increase in the number of thick journals, most of which were short-lived. However, some boasted sizable circulations; the prestigious Vestnik Evropy (Messenger of Europe ) had about 1,200 subscribers; Biblioteka dlia chteniya (Library for Reading) had 4,000; and Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland ) had close to 4,000. Despite strictly enforced censorship, the leading thick journals managed to develop a recognizable aesthetic and ideological profile. For example, Sovremennik (The Contemporary ; 18361866), founded by Alexander Pushkin, catered to the liberal public, whereas Russkaia beseda (Russian Conversation ; 18561860) targeted Slavophile readers.

In the aftermath of the 1861 Reforms that included some censorship relief, hundreds of new thick journals emerged, providing a multifaceted forum for Russian public discourse. Most influential were Russkii vestnik (Russian Messenger ), in which Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky published major works, and Russkaia mysl' (Russian Thought ; 18801900), to which Vladimir Korolenko, Dimitri Mamin-Sibiriak, Nikolai Leskov, and Anton Chekhov contributed.

By the end of the nineteenth century, illustrated weekly journals outnumbered the thick monthlies. Then the 1917 Bolshevik coup destroyed this pluralistic journalistic scene in less than a year. The New Economic Policy (NEP) of the 1920s reconstituted some variety, but all within a framework of loyalty to the Soviet regime. Thus Krasnaya nov' (Red New Soil ; 19211942) in the 1920s was the forum of the less politicized poputchiki (fellow-travelers ), whereas Kuznitsa (The Smithy ; 19201922) belonged to militant proletarian writers.

No other period of Russian history increasedor inflatedthe importance of thick journals more than Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika, which caused a veritable explosion in circulation, with several journals printing more than a million copies each month. Glasnost transformed decades-old, dogmatic publications into thought-provoking, open intellectual forums. In hindsight, the formation and formulation of diverse viewpoints would have been impossible without journals such as Novy mir (New World ; 1925), Druzhba narodov (People's Friendship ; 1939), and Znamia (Banner ; 1931) on the liberal side, and Nash sovremennik (Our Contemporary ; 1964) and Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard ; 1922) on the conservative.

However, with the meltdown of the Soviet system, thick journals rapidly lost their significance. Despite the press law of August 1, 1990, which formally abolished censorship and gave these journals economic and legal independence, few of them survived commercial pressure, competition against electronic media, and overall cultural disintegration.

See also: glasnost; intelligentsia; journalism; new economic policy; perestroika; thin journals


Frankel, Edith Rogovin. (1981). Novy mir: A Case Study in the Politics of Literature, 19521958. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ruud, Charles. (1982). Fighting Words: Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 18041906. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Peter Rollberg