WASHINGTON. — Washington -- President Bush, on the verge of tears, his voice cracking, spoke of ''shadows of past evil'' at Babi Yar, the ravine near Kiev where in 1941 Nazi gunfire murdered 33,000 Jews in 36 hours.
Does he know that 30 years later the Soviet government compounded the atrocity? It is a story that illustrates the mountain of mendacity through which the slender sprouts of Soviet reform must push.
In 1971, Soviet support for the Arab campaign to delegitimize Israel included a Pravda story that ''Zionist agents active during the last war in Western and Eastern Europe and in the occupied part of the Soviet Union collaborated with the Nazis'' and this collaboration included the Babi Yar massacre.
The massacre, said Pravda, was proof of ''the monstrous barbarity of the Nazis but also of the indelible disgrace of their accomplices and followers the Zionists.''
The author of that Pravda lie today is, according to Sen. Patrick Moynihan, in Pravda's Paris bureau. That is perestroika.
Senator Moynihan notes that President Bush is required by several statutes to work for repeal of the most infamous act of the campaign to delegitimize Israel, U.N. Resolution 3379. Passed in 1975, it declares that Zionism is racism. Senator Moynihan says, archly, ''I know the president did not know of these statutes when he went to Babi Yar. Had he known, I know he would have spoken out.''
But some people in the U.S. government knew, says Mr. Moynihan, and chose not to speak up, perhaps to avoid complicating the task of involving the Soviet Union as co-host of the Middle East peace conference. Thus does collaboration with a corrupt society corrupt those who are not careful, or who are careful in the State Department's manner.
The dark stain that permeates Soviet society, the product of seven hideous decades, was illustrated just before President Bush reached Moscow. Lazar Kaganovich died at 97 in his fine apartment on the river across from Gorky Park.
In his last years the mass murderer had been too blind to enjoy the view. Life is unfair.
In ''The Gulag Archipelago,'' Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn quotes from a propaganda leaflet distributed in a slave-labor camp at a canal project in the 1930s: ''The honored guests, Comrades Kaganovich, Yagoda and Berman, arrived at Lock No.3. People worked more quickly.'' From fear? No, positive reinforcement: ''Up above they smiled and their smiles were transmitted to hundreds of people down in the excavation.''
All the smiles soon faded. Or all but one. Berman, a Gulag administrator, and Yagoda, a secret police officer, were executed in 1938 in the purges Kaganovich administered in his role as Stalin's longest-serving henchman.
Solzhenitsyn tells of the perils of socialist railroading in those days, when a Commissar von Meck ordered increased loads on freight trains:
''The GPU (secret police) exposed von Meck, and he was shot: His objective had been to wear out rails and roadbeds, freight cars and locomotives, so as to leave the Republic without railroads in case of foreign military intervention!
''When, not long afterward, the new People's Commissar of Railroads, Comrade Kaganovich, ordered that average loads should be increased, and even doubled and tripled them (and for this discovery received the Order of Lenin along with others of our leaders) the malicious engineers who protested became know as limiters.
''They raised the outcry that this was too much, and would result in the breakdown of the rolling stock, and they were rightly shot for their lack of faith in the possibilities of socialist transport.''
As enforcer of rural collectivization and administrator of the deliberate famine, Kaganovich was implicated in the deaths of as many Soviet citizens as Hitler killed. It was, presumably, progress, of a Soviet sort, that Nikita Khrushchev did not shoot Kaganovich when he removed him from power in 1957.
But when thinking about the moral corruption against which Soviet reform must struggle, think hard about this fact: The man who served Stalin approximately as Martin Bormann served Hitler died in his sleep, on a pension, in a fine apartment.
George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.