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Inside View of the USSR

Host Hedrick Smith says new documentary shows long-term changes. TELEVISION: INTERVIEW

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MOST Americans think of an update on the Soviet Union as ``first and foremost, a story of Gorbachev: Is he up? Is he down? Is he gaining or losing? Will he be knocked off before he makes it?'' says Hedrick Smith. Mr. Smith ought to know. He is host of ``Inside Gorbachev's USSR,'' a four-part PBS series, three years in the making, which premi`eres Monday evening (see preview in box below).

``I hope what [viewers] get from this series is that this is an extraordinary process of social upheaval ... touching all elements of Soviet society in ways that will live way beyond Gorbachev. If we can get this across, [the series] will be extremely valuable.''

Reached by phone, Smith, who was Moscow correspondent for the New York Times from 1971 to '73, tells the Monitor the most striking difference between then Moscow and the making of this documentary is ``a loss of fear on behalf of ordinary people. When Khrushchev died in 1971, I tried to do a man-in-the-street reaction story, and people literally ran from me,'' he recalls.

When he stepped out on the street in May 1988, with producers and cameras, however, he says, ``I couldn't believe citizens' willingness to talk openly about economic problems, bribery, corruption. ... I'd heard about those things in the '70s, but they were in quiet conversations in their kitchens with people I already knew.''

Not that fear doesn't remain, he says. ``And I don't mean to say people are 100 percent honest ..., but the difference from 15 years ago is extraordinary. They are light years apart.''

Smith and crew logged 10,000 miles crisscrossing the Soviet Union, taking advantage of the new access to people, collectives, industry, businesses, and media since Gorbachev's policy of glasnost.

In Siberia, he looks at a community of single-room houses where a family of four has been on a waiting list for 20 years for a second room.

In Armenia, Smith and crew followed a school teacher who was a political activist, helping to promote Armenian culture in dance, folk art, and singing.

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