Uncertainty, snow enshroud Moscow streets
''Whoever the next leader is, it will be OK,'' says the man in the blue parka , as snowflakes catch in his scarf. ''Things will not be worse. And, of course, they may get better.''
That might well sum up the majority view on the streets of Moscow, as the Soviet people consider the question of where their country is headed now that yet another transition in leadership is under way.
Sixty-six years - and five leaders - after a revolution that shook the world, many of them still seem to be looking for stability, for reassurance that things will somehow work out for the best.
Despite an abundance of rhetoric on the revolutionary nature of the Soviet state, people on the streets of Moscow don't seem to relish the prospect of upheaval and clashes - either in their own domestic politics, or with the outside world.
''Absolutely no changes are expected'' under the next Soviet leadership, says a stern man in a Persian lamb hat and coat.
He is speaking to a questioning foreigner, but it also seems as if he is trying to reassure himself.
''In our country,'' he continues, ''one person does not do anything by himself. Andropov or anyone else. We have a company of men running the country.''
He seems to find the idea comforting.
And that is perhaps understandable in a country which is, after all, only 31 years past the terror of Joseph Stalin.
Still, a change in leadership does seem to bring about a degree of insecurity in the Soviet people. It points up the fact that six decades of Communist Party rule have failed to produce an orderly system for transferring power.
That leaves people on the street simply hoping for the best.
''Let him (the next leader) continue with what Andropov's done,'' ventures a young woman in a white knit hat. ''Let him see that there is no war.''
Her voice trembles a bit, her emotions well up for a moment, then she checks them, hoists her bags, and walks away.
Another, older woman - looking like the archetypal babushka in tourist pictures - can't hold back her feelings.
How does she feel about what's taking place?
''Alarmed,'' she said. Then she looks pained, and begins to cry. ''My three brothers,'' she sobs, ''were killed during the war.''
For some, this is clearly an emotional time.
Still, it would be wrong to characterize this country as overcome with grief. Many people seem detached from the events taking place around them, others even flippant.
''It doesn't matter'' who the next leader is, says one young man, because the Communist Party leadership is ''all from the same family.''
From his tone of voice, one gathers he doesn't think much of the family.
Others, meanwhile, don't even seem to want to consider what the next transition might bring.
''That's a very difficult question,'' says the man in a blue parka.
He grows more agitated, as if the questions shouldn't have been asked.
''It's a provocative question . . . very provocative. I don't know what the next leader will do.''
And neither, for that matter, does anyone else on the streets of Moscow.