On the week after the coup collapsed, Panorama, Southern California's Russian-language newspaper, quoted Lenin: "The revolution, the necessity of which the Bolsheviks have spoken of for so long, has been . . ."
Then came the joke: Instead of sovershilos (accomplished), as the founder of the Soviet state boasted in 1917, the headline ended with the word zavershilos! (ended).
It was quite a moment for Alexander Polovets, once director of a Moscow publishing house with privileges including a personal car and driver, now editor-publisher of a small weekly tabloid operating out of cramped quarters next to a travel agency on Fairfax Avenue.
But there was no shortage of memorable moments. In Moscow, a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Polovets' lawyer, Boris Z. Gorbis, that his local correspondent would be issued a press card--making Panorama the first emigre publication to be accredited in the Soviet capital.
And last week, Polovets set off for his first visit to Russia since he turned in his Communist Party card and emigrated to the United States 15 years ago.
"If it was for economic reasons, I should have stayed there," joked Polovets, 56, who started Panorama in 1978 as a four-page leaflet pasted up on his kitchen table and published as an insert in Israel Today, a San Fernando Valley-based newspaper serving the Jewish community.
Independent since 1980, Panorama now goes to an estimated 30,000 readers--by subscription at $53 a year, or for $1.25 a copy at delis, drugstores and other stores in Russian-speaking enclaves of West Hollywood and the Fairfax District.
It now provides about 24 pages a week of news and advertising--including, in a recent edition, a pitch for Natalia the Gypsy, who claims to pray away the the evil eye, exorcise pain with black magic and read the future in palms, cards and coffee grounds.
The Panorama staff could have used Natalia's talents on Tuesday, Aug. 20, the second day of the coup, when deadline loomed, masses of Muscovites were in the streets and the junta had not yet crumbled.
Unable to get through to Moscow by phone, Polovets and his staff relied on radio and TV broadcasts to provide the raw material for a roundup of the latest events. The paper that week carried the disclaimer that its report on the coup "does not fully reflect the general situation to date."
"According to the latest reports, the democratic forces are trying to consolidate themselves," wrote Valery Begishev, the Moscow correspondent, in a fax that popped up at the last minute. "Will it be possible to save \o7 perestroika\f7 ? Hope, as they say, dies last. . . ."
When Panorama's 541st edition hit the stands a day later, of course, that hope had revived--but readers had to wait till the next week for the full account.
Polovets acknowledges that the speed of events in his homeland sometimes frustrates his efforts to provide timely or comprehensive coverage.
"We have limited space and not many words, so we try to do it like Time magazine," he said. "We can't write about everything that happens every minute."
Regular Panorama reader Alexander Zholkovsky, a Slavics professor at USC, agreed.
"The breaking news aspect of it cannot be very good, because when it hits the mailboxes it's too late," Zholkovsky said.
"On the other hand, it caters to the population that only reads Russian, so it fulfills that function," he said. "The reports from Begishev are on a very high level, from a Russian liberal democratic point of view, and it combines a wide variety of advertising with quite enlightened articles written by some of the best minds of the immigration."
The paper also relies on information from the Boston office of Express Chronicle, a news service operated by former political prisoner Alexander Podrabinek, and on occasional dispatches from free-lancers.
Not all Russian specialists are as enthusiastic as Zholkovsky.
"I don't read it regularly because I don't think it's a great newspaper," said Gail Lenhoff, a professor of Slavic language and literature at UCLA.
"It's interesting as a guide to the Russian-language community," she said. "It's like the little newspaper every community has. You won't find people reading it regularly anywhere except in Fairfax or West Hollywood."
Indeed, Gregory Makaron, president of a local association of Russian Jewish emigres, says that Panorama is "the only newspaper we have. It's good for business, helping with advertisements, and it lets us know what's going on. It represents the image of who we are."