Soviet journalists taste freedom of speech THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 27, 1991|By Kim Clark

For the first time in their lives, Soviet journalists say they feel free to print what they like without having to fear retribution from offended government or party officials.

"Everything has changed during this last week," said Anatoly Repin, a foreign editor of the Soviet labor newspaper Trud.

Mr. Repin, who is part of a group of about 20 Soviet journalists who arrived in Baltimore last night at the start of a U.S. tour, said that when he was Trud's Washington correspondent in the late 1970s, the 18-million circulation daily newspaper wouldn't publish his stories if he wrote about something positive about U.S. society.

And even last week, after six years of Mikhail S. Gorbachev's glasnost, Trud correspondents were calling the paper's headquarters to ask Mr. Repin what kind of slant he wanted to put on the news of foreign reaction to Mr. Gorbachev's house arrest.

"Our correspondents said to me: 'How do you want it?' " he said.

Though many of the other official newspapers declined to publish Boris N. Yeltsin's call for a general strike or foreign countries' criticism of the coup, Mr. Repin said, "I said, 'I want it as it is.'

"And we published it as it was," he said.

And now that Trud and the reform movement have survived the three-day coup attempt, Mr. Repin said, the journalists are finally beginning to believe that they can publish stories critical of those in power without endangering either their lives or their jobs.

But the journalists say today's safety wasn't won easily.

When the Red Flag of Communism staff published a call to rally citizens of Odessa against the coup, "of course we were afraid," said Pavel Shevtzov, second-in-command at the daily newspaper.

Mr. Shevtzov, a Communist Party member who says he is now embarrassed by the name of his newspaper, said that his office became a center of activity.

Representatives of all kinds of groups, ranging from Ukranian nationalists to anti-Stalinists, gathered at the Red Flag of Communism's offices during the coup attempt.

And when it became clear that the coup had failed, Mr. Shevtzov recalled, "You cannot imagine the excitement.

"Everybody was congratulating each other. One of the workers, a fat woman, was so excited she said, 'We cannot celebrate without a bottle of vodka.' And though it is difficult, she got one." Everyone toasted the victory, he said.

"Before the coup we were in a constant state of waiting: When will it happen? Once it happened and failed, everybody feels safe," he said.

Mr. Shevtzov said that the newspaper, a collective that elects its editors, will change its names to South next year.

Other journalists in the group went even farther.

Vladimir Kuzmitchele, a correspondent for Trud, called the failure of the hard-liners last week "the real revolution."

"The October [1917] revolution was really just a putsch," he said.

He said that he was almost sorry the coup attempt was over. "There was such brotherhood" in the streets of Moscow, he said. "I had not seen it before."

The difference?

"No fear," he said.

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