AP08/17Glasnost' Reaches an Industrial City By Celestine Bohlen Washington Post Foreign Se

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AP08/17Glasnost' Reaches an Industrial City By Celestine Bohlen Washington Post Foreign Service MAGNITOGORSK, U.S.S.R. - Openness, or glasnost, one of the watchwords of Soviet reform, took on a new meaning for residents of this steel-producing city last month when the local newspaper published a three- part series called "Magnitka Through American Eyes." The author, Steve Kotkin, a 28-year-old scholar of Soviet economic history who had spent six weeks here on an academic exchange, pulled few punches. He described his view of life here on the eastern slopes of the Ural Mountains, its pluses - and its minuses. "Services are on the whole horrible, worse than any criticism. Moreover, the city is poorly supplied with goods. Very rarely does one sees such products as meat, cheese or porridge," he said. In an analysis that also spoke about problems of crime and poverty in America, Kotkin said he was amazed to meet families here who had waited 15 years to get an apartment. He had high words of praise for the warmth of the average Magnitogorets, as the locals are called, but chided the "dogmatic, even rude, manners" of certain leading citizens, and spoke his mind about excessive controls on information and the average Soviet citizen's poor knowledge of his own history. Two years ago, such an outspoken article anywhere in the Soviet Union would have been unthinkable. A year ago, it might have appeared in the fashionably progressive Moscow News, a weekly that circulates abroad in five languages, and even then it would have caused a stir. The fact that it was printed here - in the heart of the Soviet Union, in the city Joseph Stalin built at the height of industrialization - is a sign that the official policy of glasnost has made some impact outside Moscow. The loosening of controls on the press is one of the most tangible changes to have taken place in the Soviet Union over the last two years. National newspapers and magazines - with Moscow News, Ogonyok and a few others in the lead - were the first to follow the calls for openness, probing into once taboo subjects like prostitution and the Stalin era, drug addiction and misdeeds of high party officials. Now, gradually, the trend is spreading to the provinces, although not without opposition. In the Amur region in the Soviet Far East, the regional Communist Party committee publicly censured a district party official last month for trying to keep the local newspaper from publishing a critical article on personnel policies. Cases have been reported of local authorities fabricating "hooliganism" charges against pestering reporters, of editors spiking stories and firing reporters under pressure from above. The new openness can in no way be confused with independence. Soviet newspapers are official organs, with each publication tied to an official organization. On the local level, the main newspapers are the mouthpieces of the local Communist Party, and their front pages are given over to the same diet of announcements and speeches as the national party newspaper Pravda back Information remains tightly controlled and, despite complaints from a few prominent journalists, certain areas of government - defense, foreign affairs and the KGB state security police - are out of bounds for journalistic criticism. Because of this continuing sensitivity, major front- page news in the West - the landing of a West German plane on Red Square, or the early announcements of the Chernobyl accident - remain a back-page item here. Far From Moscow In Moscow, religious and political dissidents have begun probing the outer limits of glasnost with unofficial bulletins and journals, dealing with issues of emigration, the KGB and prisoners of conscience. So far, the authorities have refrained from any interference, but the situation has clearly frustrated them: This month an attack against the editors of one journal, called Glasnost, appeared in an official newspaper, widely interpreted as an oblique warning to dissident journalists. But what is playing - however tentatively - in Moscow is still a distant hope in most provincial cities. There, according to articles in the central press, enterprising reporters still feel the weight of authority for even mildly critical stories. The same discrepancy between Moscow and the provinces is true for other aspects of glasnost, which has come to mean a broadening of public debate at the workplace, even on the street. One week this summer, while members of the Hare Krishna sect were freely dancing and singing on a street in central Moscow, a fellow believers in Chernigov in the Ukraine was arrested for doing the same thing. From the start, glasnost has been presented as a key agent of Gorbachev's reforms, a way to expose the resistance, mismanagement and corruption of midlevel bureaucrats reluctant to part with the privileges of power. A turning point in the campaign came last January when, at a meeting of the party's Central Committee, Gorbachev issued a call for greater "democratization" of society. But editors differ in their intrepretation of openness. In Stavropol, where Gorbachev served as party first secretary for eight years, local editors said criticism of mismanagement was encouraged long before glasnost became a national password. Yet in their view, Moscow News goes too far. "It is flirting with issues," said Boris Kuchmayev, editor of the Stavropol Pravda. "I think it is really for foreigners." Still, the power and prestige of the central newspapers has increased dramatically, according to Moscow-based journalists who describe the near panic they witness when they arrive in distant places on a business trip. The "democratizing" role of newspapers and public opinion is still highly circumscribed, and changes in the party leadership are still made by a small group of people, often acting on orders from above. The removal last December of a Kazakh as Kazakhstan's party first secretary, and his replacement by a Russian - the cause of a two-day riot in Alma Ata, the Kazakh republic's capital - was an example not of "democratization" but of the long reach of Moscow's arm. Nonetheless, with newspapers chiming in against widespread "shortcomings," personnel changes are continuing across the country as the older generation of leaders, groomed in the style of former party leader Leonid Brezhnev, is moved out to make way for younger ones. A new, Gorbachev-style "meet the people" approach is now expected. When local leaders are unavailable, readers write to their newspapers to complain, and editors print the letters. This year in Magnitogorsk, after a loosening of nomination procedures, more than 50 percent of members of the city council were changed during local elections. only eight months. "It is not like the period of stagnation when people figured they were there for life." Yet, as many Soviet citizens complain, the new frankness and criticism, the new demands put on officials have produced few results. It turns out that airing a problem in public does not necessarily bring about its resolution. "It seems to me, in the struggle to rectify shortcomings, we are talking more than we are doing. The newspaper is writing `hot' material. And yet so far, changes are few," wrote S. Chugunov in a letter to the Magnitogorsk Worker published July 4. Paper Gets More Letters Valery Kucher, editor of the Magnitogorsk Worker and the man who made the decision to run Kotkin's pieces, can recall the days when writing about the problems of water supply in the city was "not acceptable." He said no one told him not to, he just didn't. Now his paper is ahead of even the Moscow press in answering questions on readers' minds. And the number of questions is growing: Two years ago, the paper, with a circulation of 119,000, got 6,000 to 7,000 letters a year. Now the number is 12,000, Kucher said. "Formerly the letters were mostly complaints. Now people are raising topics for discussion, getting into a conversation with us," he said. When the Magnitogorsk Worker ran Kotkin's series, the editors were uncertain how the articles would be greeted, especially by the veteran steelworkers who practically built "Magnitka" (the city's nickname) with their bare hands in the early 1930s in freezing temperatures and harshly primitive conditions. The founders' pride in their city is fierce, and criticism does not always go down well, especially from an American. The first reaction to the articles would have touched the hearts of editors everywhere. According to Elena Karelina, one of the paper's journalists, on the three days the articles came out, people riding public transport in Magnitogorsk had their papers turned to Page 3 and their eyes glued to Kotkin's articles. Some outraged letters did come in, but, to the editors' surprise, the response was mostly favorable. Sitting in their offices off a quiet courtyard a week later, the editors passed around the day's mail. "Here's one," said Evgeni Vernikov, managing editor. "It's not very grammatical. But it says here: `Reading the articles, I now have new respect for the newspaper.' Or another: `In the last two years, your newspaper has become interesting to read.' " A few people on Magnitogorsk's streets agreed. "There is sharper material about things that affect our lives," said one middle-aged woman. Through glasnost, the editors at the newspaper have also learned more about the reactions in the society around them, and about the response to Gorbachev's campaign for perestroika, or "restructuring." "We have no outright opponents of perestroika here," said Kucher, "but the resistance I would divide into four groups. First is the worker who honestly doesn't understand what it is he is supposed to do, given the same problems with materials and supplies in his workshop. Then there are people who are skeptical, who have been disappointed before, who say, `Why should I try harder when nothing will change?' "There's another group who don't want to take any initiative, who are simply waiting for a command from above. And then there are those who are demagogues, dilettantes who use the freedom to criticize others to advance themselves." These days, when virtually every Soviet citizen, from worker to official, publicly swears unfailing support for the reform process, Kucher sees the need to protect the idea from the campaign around it. "In this paper, we use the word perestroika as rarely as the word `love,' Industrialization There are two memorable landmarks in this city of 450,000 people. The first is the giant steel mill whose plumes of black and pink pollution are visible for miles around. The second is the Ural River, which marks an unofficial border between Europe and Asia. The city is a living symbol of Soviet industrialization and its location a reminder of the country's two-continent sweep. Virtually uninhabited until the 1920s, the site for this "Soviet Pittsburgh" was chosen beause of a nearby hill, rising 800 feet above the Ural River, containing a rich deposit of iron ore. In 1929, the Soviet government, poised on the verge of a massive industrialization program, decided to go ahead with plans for a steel plant that would produce 2.5 million tons of pig iron a year. A contract was signed with the McKee Co. of Cleveland for technical supervision of its construction. But the labor was supplied by thousands of Russian peasants, some who came enthusiastically, many because of hunger created by brutal collectivization in the countryside, and some because they were serving terms for political crimes. Magnitogorsk was to be one of the Soviet Union's "heroic" projects, built at breakneck speed under conditions that would make industrial safety experts turn gray. In the early years, people lived first in tents, then in barracks. According to John Scott, who came here from an America deep in the throes of the Depression, the building site was constantly short of lumber because workers took the wood home to keep warm in minus-40-degree weather. Describing Magnitogorsk in 1933 in his book "Behind the Urals," Scott wrote: "A quarter of a million souls - communists, kulaks (expropriated peasants), foreigners, Tatars, convicted saboteurs and a mass of blue-eyed Russian peasants - making the biggest steel combinat in Europe in the middle of the barren Ural steppe. Money was spent like water, men froze, hungered and suffered but the construction went on with a disregard for individuals and a mass heroism seldom paralleled in history." In that year, the steel plant began to produce its first steel. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Magnitogorsk's steel was available for weapons, safely produced thousands of miles from the front. Judging from the architecture, Magnitogorsk's heyday was in the 1950s, when the city forged ahead with a building program that produced solidly built houses with elegant roofs on the Ural River's right, or "European," bank. Today, they are a pleasant contrast to the rows of shoddy, project-type housing sprouting up in the new districts. On the left, or "Asian," bank where the steel mill is located, the last of the barracks were removed more than a decade ago. Other improvements have been made over the years: People now swim and fish in the Ural River and the days when snow came down black are over. But in other, astonishing ways, the city's lot has improved little. Today, meat and butter are rationed in Magnitogorsk: 2.2 pounds of meat, 14 ounces of butter per person per month. According to Scott, in 1932 each worker at the plant in theory was alloted 6.6 pounds of meat and 17.6 ounces of butter a month. In fact, in the winter of 1932-33 there was none of either, except in small portions at the plant canteen. According to city officials, the average waiting time for new apartments in the city is now 10 years. There is also a line for telephones, and this summer, when temperatures reached 95 Fahrenheit, there were widespread water shortages. Although river water has been cleaned, air pollution still exceeds state norms and a gigantic mound of slag, measuring 529 cubic feet, still looms over the eastern shore of the river. "Restructuring" - which nationally has shifted money and emphasis toward for every family by 2000. New water supplies are being dug and local manufacturers are shifting priorities to pay greater heed to consumer demands: Not long ago, the local alcohol factory, its production cut back by an antidrinking campaign, began making mayonnaise, ending the city's chronic shortage. But the gap between promises and reality is still apparent, as the American Kotkin pointed out in his series. "What is surprising is that you know the problems perfectly well, you have many capable and knowledgeable people who are dealing with them, and yet it seems, even so, getting them solved is an extremely slow process."


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