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Can liberalism reinvent itself?

Dmitry Babich is a political commentator for RIA Novosti.

Moskovskiye Novosti, the sister newspaper of The Moscow News, is making a big comeback. The new daily newspaper under the familiar logo of the famous weekly was relaunched on March 28. For me, and for thousands of people of a similar background, this is not just one more media project. And not only because I was MN's foreign editor between 1999 and 2003. Moskovskiye Novosti is a symbol of Russian readers' hopes of the 1980s and 1990s, for us it was not just a newspaper, but a spiritual guide, a hope, an island of freedom.

Will the new project be able to live up to its glorious brand? The new editor, Vladimir Gurevich, a member of the legendary team of MN's real founding editor Yegor Yakovlev, who headed the newspaper between 1986 and 1991 and made it world-famous, promises to make it "a symbol of quality press" and a "commercial success," at the same time gaining back the respect of the readers.

This respect does have to be regained. The old newspaper stopped to be published in 2008, but the true "clinical death" of MN had happened earlier. It happened when an open conflict broke out between the newspaper's staff and its first unelected editor-in-chief Yevgeny Kiselyov, a famous TV journalist, but a novice in print, forced on journalists by the Yukos oil company.

The representatives of this oil company, which bought the newspaper in 2003 via one of its "charity" structures, never consulted with the journalists before appointing Kiselyov. Soon afterwards, the newspaper's journalists, headed by deputy editorin- chief Lyudmila Telen and managing editor Dmitry Starovoitov, protested against Kiselyov's authoritarian methods at a special press conference and left the newspaper. After that, under the stewardship of Kiselyov and later Vitaly Tretyakov, a much more capable newspaper professional, MN never managed to become itself again and died only a formal death in 2008, when a new sponsor, not Yukos, just stopped providing the funds.

As I understand now, the conflict was unavoidable, since the idealistic liberalism of the late 1980s, represented by the MN's old staff, was a far cry from the pragmatic liberalism of the 1990s and 2000s. This new liberalism, with its use of "demo cratic" oil companies as sponsors, tough financial managers as party leaders and education/health budget cuts as slogans, couldn't be accepted neither by MN's old readers, nor by the bulk of its old writers. It was not accepted by the voters neither, as the dismal showing of liberal parties at elections between 1993 and now abundantly demonstrates.

Can liberalism reinvent itself? Our all hopes are with Vladimir Gurevich now. A brilliant journalist of MN's economic department under Yegor Yakovlev, he managed to create from scratch a respected daily newspaper, Vremya MN (later rebranded Vremya Novostei) and steer it through the muddy waters of the 2000s. Under Gurevich, this newspaper managed to navigate its way between subservient praise to the government and the hypocritical campaigns of the above described liberal oligarchs, some of whom position themselves as opposition nowadays. The newspaper, coming out in three formats (in print, on the Internet, and on iPad) promises not just news, but also competent analysis and a tribune for various viewpoints.

Let's hope the editors of the new project can deliver on their promises.

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