MOSCOW -- As Genrikh Borovik read the Soviet Peace Committee's passionate appeal to voters to save the U.S.S.R., TV screens across the empire's 12 time zones flashed yesterday what can only be described as the Communist equivalent of a Pepsi ad.
Ruby star topping a flag-decked Kremlin tower. Old man at rally holding sign: "The Union Must Be Preserved." Leningrad's breathtaking Palace Square.
"Let us think about it: What is the meaning of the union? It's our common homeland," intoned Mr. Borovik, chairman of the Peace Committee and long a loyal servant of the regime, whether the cause was slandering Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn or decrying the imperialist warmongers.
"Is it moral to cut up the homeland into pieces?" he asked. "Who because of that will live more happily?"
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall. Little girl holding candle. Happy miners after a hard day underground. Combines cutting through a golden wheat field.
"The referendum is the decision of our destiny: life or disintegration, peace or catastrophe," Mr. Borovik declared.
And this was part of the evening news.
As the March 17 referendum on whether to preserve the U.S.S.R. draws nearer, the official Soviet media are reaching fever pitch. When the official press is not interviewing workers about why everyone must vote for the union, it is denouncing in horrified tones the "so-called democrats" who urge a "no" vote.
Rarely is there a mention of the opponents' argument: that Moscow should not be given justification for preserving the old, super-centralized state or for using military force to block republican independence movements.
Six of the 15 Soviet republics are refusing to hold the referendum at all, so Moscow has ordered army bases and union-controlled factories to open polling places for a token vote in those republics. The official media generally ignore the arguments of officials in boycotting republics, while highlighting Moscow's threats of a five-year jail term for anyone interfering with the referendum.
The media also have not tried to explain how to interpret the referendum. There has been no explanation of how any number of votes in favor can be seen as an endorsement of the union's integrity if only nine republics vote.
President and Communist Party leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev says he is certain most people will vote for the union, but he seems to have told the nation's media overseers to take no chances.
Pravda, the Communist Party daily, runs a daily front-page column illustrated with a hand dropping a card marked "For union!" into a ballot box. "Either Union or Chaos," said yesterday's headline.
Below were letters from A. Bernadin, from the Siberian Gulag region of Magadan, and from a meeting of collective farmers in the southern region of Astrakhan. Like all the letter-writers whose appeals are printed, they had one message: Down with separatism. "Vremya" (Time), the nightly TV news program, which after a fling last year with objectivity has returned to its old role as Kremlin mouthpiece, is leading the charge.
Last night, in addition to Mr. Borovik's sermonette, there was the impassioned plea for a "yes" vote from the editor of Soviet Woman magazine to a gala meeting celebrating International Women's Day. The stern-faced news reader informed viewers that of hundreds of guests at the Bolshoi Theater, only Moscow's reformist, ex-Communist mayor, Gavriil K. Popov, voted against the editor's appeal.