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Soviet Voices : Changes Bring Both Hope, Fear

REMAKING THE REVOLUTION: Fourth in a series ; Tuesday: The Soviet record on human rights.

November 01, 1987|STANLEY MEISLER | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A visitor to the Soviet Union these days finds a myriad of voices and images that reflect the headiness of change, the thrill of hope and the fear of failure.

The angry, elderly man, a black cap snug on his silvery hair, stared at the painting on a stand in Moscow's Izmailova Park on a recent Sunday morning and demanded that the artist pull it down. "This is not art," the elderly man said.

The commotion prompted onlookers to crowd around the critic. They laughed at him, jeered at him, thrust their fingers at him to make their point. "Who the hell are you?" someone demanded. The elderly man finally gave up and stormed off.

Glasnost the Key

Anatoly A. A., the artist, a 43-year-old interior decorator, grinned and said a single word: "Glasnost. " That Russian word, which is usually defined as openness, has become one of the symbols of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's program to transform the Soviet Union and rid it of its snags and rot.

"That angry man," the artist explained, "is one of the old kind."

The painting that provoked so much furor portrayed a Soviet soldier home from World War II. His face was disfigured in a symbolic way. In place of his nose, a hand grew, reaching below to clamp his mouth shut. The meaning was hardly subtle.

Like most of the artists in Izmailova Park, Anatoly has limited talent. He veers from style to style as if he were following exercises in some textbook history of Western art. But he and the others represent something fresh.

It was once illegal in the Soviet Union for artists to come together on their own to exhibit and sell their work. Officially sanctioned artists had to sell their officially sanctioned art at officially sanctioned exhibitions. Artists who tried otherwise might find the police breaking up the display.

But, since early this year, the government has allowed unofficial artists and craftsmen to sell their wares in Izmailova, and thousands of Muscovites now throng the park every Sunday to sample the new phenomenon.

Anatoly, a short man with a full, cherubic face, is one of the few artists at Izmailova who attempts political statements in his work. He said he is not worried that his elderly critic might try to get the authorities to tear down the offending artwork.

"Paintings like these do not stay up very long," he said. "They sell quickly. I have even sold one just like that to a cosmonaut.

"I have had ideas like this in my head for a long time," Anatoly went on, "but I did not feel free to express them. Now I do."

But he still felt nervous enough to ask that his last name not be used in any American newspaper story about him.

How long will the freedom last, a visitor asked.

Anatoly shrugged. "I like to go to bed having happy dreams," he said.

Fyodor Nikolaievitch Dmitriev was only 17 years old when he first heard V.I. Lenin on the old, dusty Field of Mars parade grounds in St. Petersburg on May 1, 1917. The clarity and force of Lenin's stirring speech swept the young Dmitriev into the Red Guards, the armed bands of young toughs who fought for the Bolshevik Party in the streets.

Now 87, and a retired soldier and historian in what these days is known as Leningrad, the old Bolshevik with medals on his lapel feels a little uneasy about all the changes set loose by Gorbachev. Dmitriev is concerned about recent calls for the rewriting of official history, especially the attempts of some writers to expose the terror of the Stalin era.

"It's true that we made a lot of mistakes," Dmitriev said. "But while talking about mistakes, we should also talk about the historical achievements that transformed this country into a superpower. I do not agree with those intellectuals and writers who are always exaggerating. . . ."

His own memory of 1917 resembles a Communist Party poster. It was the first time that workers in St. Petersburg had ever celebrated the First of May, the holiday designated a celebration of labor by the Socialist International in 1889.

"When Lenin came to the podium on top of a truck, people shouted, 'Long live Lenin!' " Dmitriev said. "I came close, only seven or eight meters (23 to 26 feet) away from Lenin. He looked very, very tired. He wore a gray, light overcoat, clutched a cap in his left hand and held the podium with his right.

"He spoke clearly and understandably," the old Bolshevik went on. "It was easy and light to hear him. But his speech was very emotional. He spoke about the First of May, about the imperial war that gave the soldiers and workers nothing, about the February revolution that produced only a bourgeois democratic government. He talked of passing factories over to the workers and land to the peasants.

"With a great flourish, he called for the foundation of Soviet power. Within five months, his dream came true."

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