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For years, whatever other shortages there were, people here c

November 17, 1987

PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia (AP) _ For years, whatever other shortages there were, people here could always bank on finding a copy of the Communist Party daily Rude Pravo at every newsstand.

The Roman Catholic Lidova Demokracie (People’s Daily) might not be available unless the tobacconist put aside a copy. The youth daily Mlada Fronta might be snapped up and the sport daily might be sold out, but Rude Pravo was always there.

Times have changed. State-run newspapers in general and Rude Pravo in particular are suddenly in short supply.

A journalist on vacation in the countryside, where a simple word to the postwoman had sufficed, found she had to order a copy in writing and wait three weeks for delivery to begin.

″Don’t be surprised you can’t get it,″ warned the postwoman.

A shop assistant from Prague, used to reading the paper on her daily journey to work in a nearby village, complained that her regular newsstand has nothing left by 7 a.m.

″We are used to customers stealing Vlasta and Kvety,″ two popular women’s weeklies, remarked one Prague hairdresser. ″But now, when I have the afternoon shift, Rude Pravo is gone.″

Newspaper readers here reckon the unexpected spurt of interest in the Czechoslovak press dates back about two years. But those interviewed were wary of attributing the increased interest in Rude Pravo and other newspapers to the emergence of glasnost, or limited openness, in the Soviet Union.

Glasnost has been much less noticeable in the Czechoslovak news media than in Moscow.

However, the Communist Party daily has printed the full texts of speeches by Kremlin leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose drive for reform in the Soviet Union has generated hopes for change in Czechoslovakia.

Rude Pravo regularly carries a page full of readers’ criticisms and suggestions for improving some aspects of daily life. In a recent poll of 20,000 readers, 74 percent reportedly said the newspaper ″had improved.″

The poll also found that young people under 30 were the least interested in what it had to say.

The weekend supplement of Rude Pravo, known as Halo Sobota, says 1 million copies of the Communist party daily are printed on weekdays, increasing to 1.5 million at the weekend, in this nation of 15.5 million people.

An American paper trying to reach an equivalent proportion of the U.S. population would have to sell 16 million copies each weekday.

Nova Svoboda, a daily published in the industrial Ostrava region of north Moravia, recently said it noticed ″a great interest in newspapers and magazines. ... The dailies sell perhaps faster than ever before.″

Across Czechoslovakia, a nation of early risers where many start work at 7 a.m., there are ″places where the press is already sold out in the early morning,″ it added.

An increase of 4,000 copies in the Ostrava print run of Rude Pravo failed to meet demand.

The new-found popularity of the state-run press has exhausted the capacities of the Steti pulp and paperworks 25 miles north of Prague. Steti produces all the newsprint in Czechoslovakia, but some paper now has to be imported, Nova Svoboda said.

Attempts to import paper from Finland were abandoned because of the high cost in hard currency.

The burst of popularity has sparked some changes at Rude Pravo.

An editor there said that after a 25-year hiatus, the newspaper has invested about $100,000 in new machinery but it will take time before output is increased.

The editor, who spoke on condition his name not be used, said that Rude Pravo’s press run has increased at a rate of about 20,000 copies a year from September 1985. But demand still outstrips supply.

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