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REMAKING THE REVOLUTION : Barriers Fall : Glasnost--Soviets Try to Open Up

REMAKING THE REVOLUTION. GLASNOST: Third in a Series. SUNDAY: A myriad of Soviet voices and images reflect the headiness of change.

October 29, 1987|DAN FISHER | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A small sign on the gate of No. 3 Pavlenko St. in the nearby village of Peredelkino proclaims: "Here will be a museum."

About 200 yards back from the narrow road, at the end of a wooded lane, stands the distinctive, half-century-old dacha, or country home, of the late Boris L. Pasternak, its wedge-shaped, two-story facade resembling the prow of a large ship.

"This is the room where he wrote 'Dr. Zhivago,' " said Yuri V. Alyokhin as he guided visitors through the mostly empty house to a second-floor study looking out over an onion-domed Russian Orthodox church. Pasternak is buried near the church.

Published in the West after it was banned here, "Dr. Zhivago" helped Pasternak win the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. It also brought him the unremitting hostility of the Soviet political and cultural Establishment, which labeled him "a literary Judas."

Undermined His Health

Pasternak was forced to decline the Nobel, but the attacks on him continued, undermining his health and, some say, contributing to his death in 1960 in a small downstairs bedroom of his dacha .

Now, Pasternak has been officially rehabilitated under Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. Pasternak's sweeping novel, set against the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian civil war, is finally supposed to be published in its entirety in the literary monthly Novy Mir next year. His son, Yevgeny, is writing Pasternak's biography with official blessing.

The Ministry of Culture named Alyokhin director of the Pasternak museum almost a year ago, but the project is still held up because of a rear-guard action by Stalinist-era Writers' Union officials, one of whom has reportedly pledged that the museum will open only "over my dead body."

So the Pasternak dacha --which is a museum but, at the same time, isn't--stands as a fitting symbol of glasnost (usually, but inadequately, translated into English as "openness").

Like the sign on Pasternak's gate, glasnost is above all a statement of intent, a demonstration of new thinking at the top--and a promise of significant changes to come. But the still-closed museum is a reminder that the plan may not be as ambitious as some might wish and that, in any case, the work has barely begun and glasnost is vulnerable to counterattack by still-powerful forces with a stake in the old ways.

Still, to visitors returning to Moscow after less than a decade's absence, the changes that Gorbachev has accomplished in less than three years in office--although sometimes tentative and incomplete--are stunning.

Moscow is a more relaxed city with fewer propaganda slogans than it was in the 1970s. Andrei D. Sakharov, formerly the dean of Soviet dissidents, is now quoted by the Soviet foreign minister in speeches before the United Nations. Nikita S. Khrushchev, officially a "non-person" for 20 years, turns out not to have been so bad after all--or so the Soviet media say now.

Films suppressed for up to a generation as anti-socialist now play at neighborhood theaters, and emigre authors once considered traitors are published in literary magazines.

There are still taboos, of course. No one is publishing exiled author Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn. The KGB, Soviet foreign policy and the true size of the Soviet defense budget are among aspects of life that still appear mostly immune from scrutiny. But the same brand of criticism that used to land people in prison appears daily in Soviet newspapers, which people now buy to read rather than simply to use as wrapping material.

Even the CIA, which generally takes a skeptical view of Soviet developments, concluded in a September report that the "policy of glasnost or openness has resulted in more candor and less ideological rigidity in the discussion of Soviet problems, history, international relations and culture than at any time since the 1920s."

But, while it is clearly the most dramatic of the innovations introduced under Gorbachev, glasnost is at the same time the most reversible.

A standard Russian-English dictionary published here translates the word not as "openness" but as "publicity" or "public airing"--definitions that more accurately suggest the nature of glasnost as a policy controlled from the top rather than rising spontaneously from the bottom.

The authorities may be telling more, but they have not ceded their prerogative to decide what will be told, and to whom. Glasnost is a tool, not an end in itself, and therefore, not to be confused with Western-style freedom of speech.

Neither, however, is glasnost what some skeptical Western analysts first believed--simply good public relations, designed to lull the West into complacency. Its primary focus is internal, not external.

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