MOSCOW — The Soviet government will permit the emigration of Soviet citizens who have already applied to leave the country unless they have been involved in military research, according to a senior Kremlin official.
"I don't think we will force any one of them to stay who wants to leave," Alexander N. Yakovlev, the newest member of the ruling Politburo and key adviser to Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, said in an interview.
Yakovlev, responding to questions about the fate of "refuseniks," those who have been denied permission to emigrate, said their previous applications are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
He said that those who have worked on "military projects" would not be allowed to leave the country but that "as far as all the others are concerned, they are welcome to leave."
Backlog Estimated at 12,000
He referred to a backlog of pending applications and was not signaling a new liberalization of emigration policy. The backlog, estimated by Soviet officials at 12,000, includes some individuals who are reapplying to emigrate after being denied permission as well as those whose cases are pending.
Critics of Moscow's emigration policy have charged that it defines military research too broadly, thus preventing the emigration of anyone who has even a tenuous relationship, past or present, with the military.
Yakovlev denied charges by human rights organizations in the West that tens of thousands of Soviet citizens want to emigrate.
Emigration, primarily involving Jews, has been a controversial issue between the Soviet Union and the United States. The number of Jewish emigrants peaked at more than 51,000 in 1979 but fell to fewer than 1,000 last year.
On Jan. 1, the Soviet Union put into effect a set of rules governing emigration. The new law allows emigration for purposes such as family reunion, although it defines families only as immediate relatives. Critics contend that, in general, the law treats emigration as a privilege, not a right.
Party Partly to Blame
In a two-hour interview, rarely granted by Politburo members, Yakovlev said the present campaign for more democracy in the Soviet Union will have to "begin with the Communist Party itself." But he acknowledged that the party, which runs the government in the Soviet Union, bears part of the responsibility for economic and social ills.
"The party is part of society and suffers the same illnesses as society," Yakovlev said. "Sometimes illnesses start with the party. Yet we believe that in this period of reconstruction through glasnost (openness) and criticism, the prestige of the party has increased. We are in a stage now where we can go deeper with our democracy."
He said the Soviet legal code is being rewritten to include clear procedures for individuals to appeal the decisions of officials and courts.
"What we are talking about," he said, "is an optimal level of social justice, and we have to provide a process of appeals of firings and fines because a judge cannot know everything."
Although Yakovlev is known to be a prime architect of the new policy of glasnost, he made it clear that his government is "not going to move toward Western-style democracy, now or ever."
Scorning parliamentary politics and a free-market consumer economy, Yakovlev said the emphasis will be on "socialist democracy," including direct election of factory and farm officials. He predicted that this will lead to a vast decentralization of decision-making in the highly concentrated Soviet economic and political system.
A former exchange student at New York's Columbia University, Yakovlev was Soviet ambassador to Canada for nearly a decade. In the interview, which took place in his office at the Communist Party Central Committee (he also holds the post of party secretary), he alternated between English and Russian.
Yakovlev, who was elected a candidate member of the Politburo last January and now has authority over cultural matters, dismissed mass Western culture as "decadent." He said his government will do "everything to prevent the domination of Soviet mass culture by imports from the West."
"We are going to do what is in our power," he said, "to make it impossible for violent and pornographic films to penetrate here."
Favors Artistic Freedom
But he said he favors much greater artistic freedom than there has been here in the past, and added:
"There are currently no movies in the Soviet Union that are being held back from public release because of their content, as had often been the practice in the past."
He spoke approvingly of the movie "Repentance," one of the films formerly held on the shelf by Soviet censors, which has been exhibited recently and hailed as a condemnation of terror tactics employed in the Stalin era.
"It was artistically and politically very interesting, and it would be good to show the movie in Chile and South Africa," Yakovlev said.
He said there is a growing trend against restrictions in publishing and the arts.