Before 1914, the national press in East Central Europe grew significantly. This is revealed in the number of publications, the growing circulation, and the more modern organisational and technical aspects that were used. All countries in the region struggled with difficult political conditions. The powerful apparatus of Russian censorship slowed the development of the press and tried to control it. Politics increasingly influenced the press.

Country Most popular daily newspaper and its Circulation in 1914

The Number of National Periodicals[1]
In 1914 In 1918
Polish Kingdom Gazeta Poranna 2 Grosze


248 176
Lithuania Lietuvos žinios

(No further information)

31 No specific information, majority of periodicals from before 1914 closed down
Latvia Jaunākās Ziņas


15 majority closed down
Estonia Postimees

(No further information)

88 majority closed down
Finland Helsingin Sanomat


116 No specific information

Table 1: Publications in East Central Europe, 1914-1918[2]

The Polish Kingdom

The Press After the Outbreak of War

After the Russian Revolution of 1905, the press in the Polish Kingdom increased significantly. After the outbreak of war, the Russian authorities quickly introduced harsh preventive censorship. Warsaw, as the press and publishing centre, was greatly influenced by the war. On 1 August 1914, 169 periodicals (including fourteen journals) were published in Warsaw. By the time of the Russian evacuation on 4 August 1915, only fifty-six Polish titles and two Jewish journals existed. The number of readers decreased because of the voluntary or compulsory emigration of part of the population to Russia. In 1915 the press stagnated and experienced a severe crisis; many journalists lost their jobs.[3] Commercial periodicals were more resistant to crisis.

In August 1915, after Germany conquered Warsaw, the German Press Board moved there. German Press Officer Georg Cleinow (1873-1936) began enforcing a brutal policy against the press. Under German rule, criticising the occupation authorities was forbidden. The East European Telegraphic Agency was created in Warsaw during the month of August 1915. It distributed the Central Powers’ official propaganda. In November 1915, the Office of Journalistic News was established. From February 1917, the German Wolff Telegraph Bureau had a post in Warsaw. By 1917, paper for newspapers cost three times more than it had before the war, and printing was also expensive. In October 1917, the occupation authorities ordered all Polish periodicals to reduce their circulation. In 1909 the Kurier Warszawski had a circulation of 33,000; by 1917 it had decreased to 10,000. At the same time, paradoxically, the number of periodicals was growing; in October 1917, there were ninety Polish language periodicals (seventy-six of them in Warsaw) and thirteen Jewish periodicals in Yiddish and Hebrew.[4]

The Warsaw Periodicals

Of the contemporary legal journals, the most important was Kurier Warszawski ("Varsovian Courier"), edited by Konrad Olchowicz (1894-1978). Being the main Varsovian bourgeoisie newspaper, it promoted Polish literature and science. It never declared its political programme, simply identifying itself as a “national newspaper”. The editors supported neither Austria-Hungary nor Russia, but, at least at the beginning of the war, they believed that Russia would be victorious. During the German occupation, Kurier Warszawski sympathised with the Entente. It also encouraged society to organise mutual aid in reaction to the disastrous effects of German economic exploitation.

The Gazeta Warszawska ("Varsovian Newspaper") was the main press organ that favoured national democracy. Its readers were mostly landowners and representatives of the middle class. Roman Dmowski (1864-1939), the leader of the national democrats, cooperated with the newspaper. It supported the Russians and discussed the reconstruction of an independent Poland as a Russian ally.[5]Gazeta Poranna 2 Grosze ("Morning Newspaper 2 Pennies"), a national democratic periodical, was the most popular of the Varsovian journals of the time. Its circulation before the war reached 50,000 and targeted mainly merchants. Under the German occupation it became the opposition’s press organ. It demanded Polish independence with a republican system. The press of the pro-Russian Passive Fraction also included modern, commercial weeklies, such as Tygodnik Ilustrowany ("Illustrated Weekly"), which supported the Entente. Its rival was Świat ("World"), a periodical richly illustrated with photographs. The numerous national democratic periodicals were a publishing phenomenon. They attacked the occupying powers and their Polish followers. The number of copies of illegal national democratic periodicals reached 1 million. The Yiddish press, which sympathised with the Central Powers, published the Zionist journal Hajnt ("Today"), the nationalist journal Moment, and the Folksblat.[6]


The Press Prior to 1914

In Lithuania, the prohibition of publishing in Lithuanian using Roman script was in force from 1864 to 1904. The Russian authorities punished Lithuanians in this way for their participation in the Polish January Uprising of 1863-1864. Textbooks and prayer books printed in Lithuanian in East Prussia or in the United States of America were smuggled across the Russian-German border. The first Lithuanian newspaper, Aušra (“Dawn”), appeared in 1883, although it was printed in East Prussia until 1886. It was during this period that the Lithuanian national movement began. Dr. Jonas Basanavičius (1851-1927), one of the most important Lithuanian independence activists before and during the First World War, was also the publisher of Aušra.[7]Aušra strengthened the Lithuanian national identity and opposed Russification and Polonisation. Basanavičius and other journalists glorified the Lithuanian culture and popularised the language and folklore. The Liberals soon established their own newspaper, the Varpas (“The Bell”), which was published from 1889 to 1905. The newspaper called on Lithuanians to fight against Russification, giving them hope for their own state. The press hoped to integrate the scattered Lithuanian national movements. When, in 1894, the effort to unify the independence movement undertaken by the editors of the Varpas failed, the followers of the newspaper gathered and established the Lithuanian Democratic Party in 1902.

In 1904, the tsarist authorities finally allowed publications in Lithuanian to use the Latin alphabet. The apparatus of censorship, however, still hindered the development of the press. At the end of the year, the journal Vilniaus žinios (“Vilnius News”) appeared. A proclamation for Lithuanian autonomy within Russia was published by this journal on 11 November 1905. In 1907, Antanas Smetona (1874–1944), the future president of Lithuania, became a member of the Liberal Party. Thanks to his efforts, a new liberal newspaper, Viltis (“Hope”), was founded. Smetona defined himself and his followers as “nationalists”. After 1905, the press became a more forceful presence. In 1910, there were thirty-one periodicals in the Lithuanian language throughout the Russian Empire. The majority of these newspapers were press organs of political parties.[8]

The German Occupation, 1915-1918

After the outbreak of war, the preventive censorship of the press was introduced across the Russian Empire. In the autumn 1915, Germany occupied the territory of Lithuania. All existing journals and newspapers were closed. The area was under the military administration of the Supreme Commander of the Eastern Front, called Ober Ost (Oberbefehlshaber Ost). The chief command in Kaunas appointed the Central Occupying Board. The Press Department, subordinated to the Commander in Chief, controlled the press in this region. This institution built the net of “centres of German culture” in the Ober Ost area. German soldiers’ newspapers were founded in the largest cities.

Newspapers with Polish and Yiddish sections could only appear in Grodno and Białystok. The Press Department did not permit Lithuanians to publish their own newspapers, claiming that a Lithuanian periodical, Dabartis (“Presence”), already existed. Wilhelm Steputat (1868-1941), also known as Vilius Steputaitis, had published the periodical since September 1915 in Tilsit. He was an East-Prussian and Member of Parliament in the Prussian Lower House. His newspaper was treated as German because it propagated the annexation of Lithuania to Germany. In autumn 1917, the military authorities permitted the publication of one journal, Lietuvos Aidas (“Lithuanian Echo”) in Vilnius. Soon, the Lithuanian paper’s independence was strictly limited. When the text of the Lithuanian declaration of independence from 16 February 1918 appeared in it, the whole issue was confiscated.[9]


Around 1900, twenty-six newspapers, nine magazines and seven commercial publications, the majority in German, appeared in Courland and Livonia. The Latvian language press was persecuted by Russian censorship. Licenses for new Latvian periodicals were only given in rare cases. At the same time, however, the provincial Latvian press had the right to oppose the exploitation of the population by Baltic barons. Some Latvian bourgeoisie groups had their own newspapers, published by big press concerns. The company Dīriķis un biedri published the influential and moderately conservative Latvian newspaper, Baltijas Vēstnesis (“Baltic Journal”). The liberal newspaper, Mājas Viesis (“Home Away”), was published by the Ernst Plates Company. The Latvian press was concentrated in Riga. In St. Petersburg, the newspaper Pētersburgas Avīzes (“Petersburg Newspaper”) appeared.

The failure of the Russian Revolution in 1905 caused the Latvian press to be more tightly limited – of the ten largest newspapers, six were closed down. Simultaneously, the revolution stimulated the development of the political press. In 1904, in Latgallia, the prohibition on publication was lifted. The system of licensing for newspapers and journals and the harsh censorship were annulled. New newspapers were formed. The most important journal was the Dzimtenes Vēstnesis (“Homeland Journal”). A mass commercial publication began to appear in Latvia in 1911 with the publication of the journal Jaunākās Ziņas (“Latest News”). The circulation was enormous and reached 97,000 copies. Thanks to a great investment in the printing industry, a technical revolution occurred. In 1910, seventy-nine great printing houses existed in Latvia.[10] Over half of the great newspapers and all the magazines were liquidated after the outbreak of the war. When the evacuation of the Latvian population began in May of 1915, Russian cities such as Petrograd, Moscow, and Pskov became the new centres of the Latvian press. The Dzimtenes Vēstnesis was the most important press organ of the Latvian minority in Russia. Among such periodicals, the most popular was the Dzimtenes Atbalss (“Birthland Echo”) in Moscow. The Latvian national democrats organised meetings in the editor’s office. They supported Latvia’s separation from Russia. In autumn 1917, the Germans occupied the entire Latvian territory and liquidated the majority of newspapers.[11]


The Press Prior to 1914

At the beginning of the 20th century, Estonian journalism made a great leap in its development and saw growing circulation numbers of newspapers. The leading political parties possessed their own press organs. This was helped along by the fact that Estonia had the highest rate of literacy in the Russian Empire. In 1897, 80.9 percent of Tallinn’s population was able to read; the average for Russian cities was 45.3 percent. Around 1900, twelve newspapers with ten supplements appeared in Estonia. The Revolution of 1905 acted as a catalyst for the development of the press. The general practice in fighting Russian censorship was to publish the same periodical under several different names. When Russians liquidated one of them, the others remained. In 1907, the record number of 112 press titles appeared. After the 1905 Revolution, seventy-two newspapers disappeared, that is, 60 percent of all press publications. This was mainly due to censorship.

Tallinn was the press centre, with its 130 periodicals. The largest newspapers were Uus Aeg (“New Time”), Teataja (“Journal”), and Päevaleht (“Daily”). In Tartu, Postimees (“Courier”), as well as Uudised (“News”) predominated. The journal Postimees was defined as national; it did not, however, specify a clear political programme. In 1896, Jaan Tõnisson (1868-1941?), leader of the national fraction, lawyer, and future prime minister, became the editor-in-chief. Under his leadership, the Postimees transformed itself into the organ of the first middle class party, the Estonian Progressive People’s Party. The editors, rejecting the class fight, wanted to build Estonians’ national unity. The journal Teataja dealt with the working class movement and growing social conflicts. Its editor-in-chief was the future president of Estonia, barrister Konstantin Päts (1874-1956). Counting on the cooperation of Russian democrats, he supported a political fight against German domination. The third important periodical was the Uudised (“News”) from Tartu. This was the organ of the social democrats, which supported an autonomous socialist Estonia within the Russian federation of nations.[12]

During the War

After the outbreak of the First World War, new newspapers appeared and circulation increased. By the end of 1914, eighty-eight newspapers with supplements had appeared. This was possible because the war-zone was far away and did not have a paralysing effect on the home front, as was the case in many other countries. However, the growing costs of publication soon limited this press boom. The March Revolution of 1917 that ended Romanov rule in Russia led to the recovery of the press market. The Postimees became involved in defending the provisional government in the face of attacks from the Councils of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Delegates. The Tonisson Party used its pages to propagate its national political programme. After the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they attacked the national press in Estonia, closed oppositional newspapers, and confiscated their stores of paper and financial resources. On 27 October 1917, Vladimir Lenin’s (1870-1924) government decree officially closed down the whole “counter-revolutionary” press, which criticised supported the Provisional Government. Terror measures silenced by force any possibility of legal opposition. The Bolsheviks liquidated the newspapers Päevaleht,Tallinna Teataja and Postimees to silence the opposition before the electoral campaign for the Russian parliamentary elections in November 1917. The Bolsheviks also used economic measures to destroy the “counter-revolutionary” press. On 8 November a new decree, which introduced a state monopoly on paid press advertisements, was announced. During the German occupation from February to November 1918, the majority of Estonian newspapers were closed by military authorities.[13]


The Press Prior to 1914

Every Finnish city had a local newspaper, which was possible due to the low cost of newspapers and the high Finnish literacy rate. The number of newspapers grew from fifty-eight titles in 1890 to 116 in 1910. In the 1890s, rotary machines were introduced in printing houses and journalist agencies were founded. In 1887, the Finnish Telegraphic Office was set up, and in 1915 the Finnish Press Agency was created. The Finnish press criticised Russian policy, which led to increased censorship; between 1898 and 1902, the Russian Governor General Nikolay Bobrikov (1839-1904) closed fifteen publications. At the time of the 1905 Revolution, permission for many new publications was granted. On the eve of war, Helsinki was the centre of publishing. The growing political parties founded their own newspapers, which were financially dependent on them. The most modern newspaper in terms of layout and progressive content was the Helsingin Sanomat, which was the press organ for the National Progressive Party.[14]

The Finnish Press, 1914–1918

After the outbreak of war, the Helsingin Sanomat and the Uusi Suometar expressed their loyalty to tsarist Russia. The social democratic title Työmies also sympathised with the authorities, accusing Germany of aggression. In contrast, another social democratic newspaper, the Kansan Tahto (“Will of the People”), manifested a pro-German attitude. The war cut Finland off from the outside world. It was impossible to gain access to the press of the belligerent countries.

In March 1917, the main middle class newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, tried to counteract the revolutionary chaos. It protested against continuous street meetings and called for a return to work. The Marxist newspaper, Työmies, disagreed with the Helsingin Sanomat, and encouraged the Finnish workers to continue the class fight. The middle class was treated as the enemy. The journalists at the Työmies wrote about the cooperation with middle class leaders as a tactical requirement for the moment, expecting rapid changes in Russia. The middle class press was increasingly helpless in the face of the radicalism of socialist propaganda, which defined the national fraction as “German spies”. The national parties founded their own newspaper, Uusipäivä, in which a declaration of independence was demanded. The remaining sections of the press acted moderately. The press on both sides accused their opponents of dictatorial aspirations and lawlessness. The Helsingin Sanomat tried, unsuccessfully, to discuss the creation of a coalition government consisting of socialists and radical representatives of the bourgeoisie.[15]

The German Occupation Press in the East, 1915 -1918

Zeitung der 10. Armee

The Zeitung der 10. Armee (“The Newspaper of the 10th Army”) was a typical German soldiers’ newspaper that appeared behind the front line during the war. During the war, 113 press titles appeared in total, which were published by the army and distributed for soldiers on all fronts. There were more soldiers’ newspapers on the Eastern Front, because of the difficulties involved with sending press directly from Germany. The Zeitung der 10. Armee had already appeared in Vilnius in December 1915. The influence of the German High Command’s propaganda was visible in its content. The worst stereotypes of Slavs (of their dirtiness and drunkenness) were used to describe Poles and Russians. The view of the conquered nations as culturally inferior predominated, although the editors tried to differentiate more.

The task of this newspaper was to promote the idea of a German cultural mission in the East. Despite the influence of propaganda, the newspaper avoided critical illustrations of enemy soldiers. High culture was promoted in the Zeitung, where texts from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) were published. It was supposed to be a newspaper created by soldiers for soldiers. The Zeitung was popular, though it was not free; however, free copies were distributed to hospitals and soldiers’ houses. The newspaper made money: economic benefit came from the great circulation and profitable cost of publication, which was three times lower than in Germany. Periodicals were censored by officers in the units in which they appeared, although journalists self-censored as well.

Deutsche Warschauer Zeitung

The Deutsche Warschauer Zeitung (DWZ, “The German Warsaw Newspaper”) was the main press organ of the German military and civil occupation authorities in the General Governorate of Warsaw, which was created by Wilhelm II, German Emperor (1859-1941) on 24 August 1915. The first issue of the newspaper appeared on 10 August 1915. The newspaper was published by Grenzboten GmbH in Berlin, whose owner, Georg Cleinow (1873-1936), was chief of the occupation press board. The DWZ appeared until 10 November 1918. It appeared only in German and was directed mainly at Germans, as well as at the German-speaking Polish and Jewish elites of Warsaw. The editor-in-chief was Kurt Schiller, who wrote on economic subjects. The DWZ gained information from the German press, from communiqués from the Wolff Telegraphic Agency, and from the press of neutral countries, local Polish and Jewish press, and the Russian press. Many articles about Poland appeared in the DWZ, although it also contained articles on Russian affairs. The DWZ gave detailed descriptions of the activity of the governor-general of Warsaw, Hans von Beseler (1850-1921), supporting the main propagandist aim of the German occupation in Poland – to pacify the mood behind the front line. The emphasis on a good Polish-German relationship was supposed to draw Poles’ attention away from German exploitation and create the impression that the Polish state, as an ally of the Central Powers, already existed. The editors underlined German achievements in the Polish Kingdom in the fight against poverty and disease. The newspaper had diverse readers, including both soldiers and civilians. The editors tried to describe reality in a more thorough and realistic way than the official propaganda allowed them to. At the same time, the journalists showed authentic interest in Polish culture and saw it as just as complex and fascinating as German culture. The primitive stereotype of Slavs, which predominated in the soldier press, did not exist in the DWZ.[16]


Already before the First World War, the press in East Central Europe appeared to be the crucial indicator of modernity. For East Central Europe, it was not the World War, but the 1905 Revolution in Russia that was the main turning point. It was then that Russia cancelled the ban for Lithuanian and Latvian language publications, resulting in the rapid increase of periodicals and stimulating political debate. Many newspapers appeared as official organs of the political parties. The journalists showed themselves to be clever, dynamic businessmen; they were very successful in seeking sponsors and money. They understood how the Russian authorities tried to reduce freedom of speech. When censorship liquidated some of the papers, they were quickly reborn under new titles. The press before 1914 was also an important tool for propaganda and politics, as well as a symbol of freedom. At the same time, huge numbers of newspapers went out of business because of financial problems, lack of readers, and a lack of paper and printing machines. The market proved to be unstable, but journalists were proud to participate in the fight to create their own national press. The press was also a link with the diaspora communities, linking those at home with emigrants in cities around the world, from Moscow to Chicago. Although the press was vulnerable in moments of economic crises, during the First World War it proved to be invincible. Russian and later German and Bolshevik authorities destroyed the free press and created their own propaganda newspapers. But it was only a provisional situation. Journalists were often unemployed, were arrested and even deported, yet they continued to act, often in illegal ways. The end of the occupation in 1918 began a new era for the press in the new independent states, although it was not an easy beginning.

Paweł Brudek, Museum of Warsaw Uprising

Section Editors: Ruth Leiserowitz; Theodore Weeks