MY taxi driver in Washington spoke with a guttural accent. He'd been in America about 10 years, he said. He had one son at the American University and another headed for the Wharton School.
Where was he from? Well, he explained, he told passengers that he was from the Soviet Union, but he was really from the Ukraine. Most Americans didn't know the difference.
He'd been offered a job with the Ukrainian language service of the Voice of America, but he had turned it down because he ``made twice as much money driving a cab.''
Inevitably, our conversation turned to life in his homeland, and Mr. Gorbachev, and the new policy of ``glasnost,'' or openness.
``I listen to all he [Gorbachev] says, but I don't see no real change,'' said my cab-driver friend.
And then: ``Look what he says about the blacks. We'd better get Jesse Jackson to go over there and straighten him out.''
The driver was referring to recent reports of remarks by Gorbachev on racial minorities in the United States. After a session with a visiting US congressional delegation, Mr. Gorbachev was quoted as suggesting separate homelands for blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Polish-Americans.
It is being cited as an example of continuing Soviet insensitivity on human rights, despite all the protestations of ``glasnost.''
We drove along just a few miles away from where hundreds of demonstrators were picketing the Virginia headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. The demonstrators were relatively orderly. The police who hauled them off were relatively gentle.
But still the demonstrators shouted out ``Murderers, murderers,'' at CIA employees going to work, and chanted such slogans as ``S'i, s'i, Sandinistas; no, no, CIA.'' One counter-protester unfurled a sign reading: ``Go home Amy - you too Abbie,'' a reference to Amy Carter and Abbie Hoffman. ``I have no great affection for the CIA,'' the cabbie said, ``but I don't particularly care much for people who think that everything the United States does outside the country is wrong.''
It was a fairly routine manifestation of diverse American viewpoints, but I wondered how the Soviet authorities would react if several hundred Soviet citizens tried to picket the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow. I wondered what treatment would be afforded dissenters in the Soviet Union who publicly protested thair country's policies in Afghanistan, or who cheered for the victory of the freedom fighters against the Soviet puppet regime.
And my reflections reminded me that for all the trappings of ``glasnost,'' for all Mr. Gorbachev's eagerness for an arms-control agreement, the Soviet Union remains a world apart when it comes to the treatment of human beings.
In his meeting with the American congressmen, Mr. Gorbachev expressed irritation with continuing American efforts to hold the Soviets to their promises on human rights. He criticized Secretary of State George Shultz's recent attendance in Moscow at a Passover seder with Jewish dissidents. He dismissed the dissidents as complainers.
That is one of the principal differences between the two systems of the Soviet Union and the free world. In the West, complainers are allowed to complain; in the Soviet Union, complainers are hushed up, sometimes roughed up, and often hustled off to psychiatric clinics or prison camps.
There can be little doubt that ``glasnost'' has shaken up the Soviet Union. But if you are a complainer imprisoned in some frozen camp, if you are a Soviet citizen denied for years the right to join a husband or wife in the US, if you are a Jew who cannot get out, you are likely to think, like the Ukrainian cab-driver, that you ``don't see no real change.''