DDR History

»Sputnik« magazine as a journalistic ambassador of the USSR

The thematically diverse Soviet magazine »Sputnik« was first published in 1967 and was available in both the DDR and the Federal Republic. On 18 November 1988, however, the DDR government imposed a distribution stop. by Jörn Kleinhardt (2 Jun 2016)

From January 1967, the Soviet magazine »Sputnik« (Russian for »companion«) was published by the state news agency »Novosti«. Intended as a digest of the Soviet press, the magazine was aimed not only at Soviet citizens but also at readers in socialist and Western countries. Accordingly, the contents of »Sputnik« were translated into various languages such as Danish, English, Finnish, French, Greek, Portuguese and of course German. The magazine was available in both the DDR and the Federal Republic.

»Sputnik« – A diverse companion in different languages

The content of the small colourful magazine was as diverse as the different countries in which it was available. Topics from all areas such as politics, science, culture and society of the Soviet Union were printed. Above all, »Novosti« was concerned with documenting the cultural diversity and the geographical as well as climatic differences within the Soviet Union. The editors deliberately refrained from using too much of the usual socialist rhetoric in order to do justice to the Western target group. Articles that were slightly critical of the system were therefore also included in the publication.

In terms of quality, the magazine set new standards, for example, with the numerous colour photos accompanying the individual articles. Printing was partly done on Finnish glossy paper or even in Finnish printing houses such as the company »Kursivii« or the company »Sanomaprint«. No wonder: with a print run of more than half a million copies per month, one would have quickly reached the end of one's own capacities. Of course, with the help of the cooperation with the Finnish printers, they also wanted to meet the high quality demands of the western readership.

various »Sputnik« issues from the collection of the DDR Museum

Distribution stop of »Sputnik« on 18 November 1988

In the course of Mikhail Gorbachev's »glasnost and perestroika« policy, critical reporting in »Sputnik« increased. For the first time, there was public criticism of Stalin, of the cult of personality in the socialist system or of »unpleasant« historical events such as the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939. In the DDR leadership in the late 1980s, this new openness caused great irritation. Concerned about their own world view, the DDR leadership stopped the delivery of the »rebellious Sputnik« from 18 November 1988. In doing so, the leadership of the Republic acted contrary to the doctrine postulated for decades, »Unbreakable friendship with the people of the Soviet Union at all levels«. The de facto ban on »Sputnik« caused resentment in large sections of the population and acted as a catalyst for the opposition movement in the DDR. It was not until a year later that »Sputnik« was sold again in East German newspaper shops. The censored issues of the previous year appeared in November 1989 in a special issue for East German readers.

»Sputnik« special issue 1988/1989

With the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc at the beginning of the 1990s, »Sputnik« disappeared into insignificance.

More on this topic