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Glasnost: Progress Note

October 22, 1987

Any outsider trying to assess the policy of glasnost , or greater openness, proclaimed by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev is faced with one of those "good news, bad news" situations. There are encouraging signs that the paranoid obsession with keeping everything secret from foreigners is beginning to erode. And the authorities are now willing to tolerate a sometimes startling amount of open dissent. Yet the apparatus of censorship and control remains very much in business.

Twice in the past four weeks the weekly Moscow News has reported the occurrence of strikes--one of them by bus drivers near Moscow, and the other by hundreds of workers at a bus factory in the Urals. Strikes, which are illegal under Soviet law, are known to have occurred before. But in the past the Kremlin has tried to squelch news of the incidents.

Also on the positive side, Soviet television carried a live, uncensored debate between members of the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Soviet. Russian televiewers heard, among other things, a blunt observation by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) that "for most of this century the Soviet Union has been a hell for human rights."

Then there was the meeting at Harvard that brought together senior members of the Kennedy Administration and Soviet participants in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The Americans expected the Soviet visitors to fall into the usual pattern of blaming everything on the United States. The Russians, however, turned out to be surprisingly open and frank in their comments; they even admitted that misjudgments by Moscow contributed to the crisis. Soviet participants at a recent East-West conference in Britain behaved in a similarly open fashion.

Soviet authorities have always been notoriously sensitive to the idea of foreigners poking around in their country. Yet they recently allowed Western experts to visit a previously top-secret radar near Krasnoyarsk and a chemical-weapons base.

Unfortunately, however, glasnost is still selective.

More than 40 English-language books were confiscated by the censor at last month's Moscow Book Fair--including such innocuous works as "Gorky Park," a detective novel with a Russian gumshoe as the hero.

After initial shows of toleration, the KGB secret police have cracked down on demonstrations by Crimean Tatars demanding a return to their pre-World War II homeland. The police have also taken to detaining publishers of the journal Glasnost, an unauthorized newsletter launchedby a group of former political prisoners to test the sincerity of Gorbachev's commitment to greater openness.

At the same time, according to expert observers, members of Pamyat, an extreme Russian nationalist and anti-Semitic group, have been allowed to come out of the closet and crusade against the "Judeo-Masonic conspiracy" in halls provided by institutions ranging from the Union of Artists to the Dynamo factory.

Naturally Western observers would like to believe that glasnost is truly the wave of the future in the Soviet Union, and that continuing vestiges of Stalinism will gradually disappear. So far, the evidence is too mixed to support such a conclusion.

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