A man-in-the-street view of the Soviet transition

''He will be like Brezhnev, a gradual approach. . . .''

''They worked together for a long time. . . .''

''Changes? We shall have to wait and see. . . .''

If everyday Russians are busy pondering what shifts the new Soviet Communist Party leader, Yuri Andropov, will bring, they aren't showing it.

On Moscow streets and sidewalks, the consensus message seems this: We ordinary people shouldn't be expected to know about such things. But what we suspect is that the man who has been named to follow Leonid Brezhnev won't be startlingly different.

Meanwhile, as they say here, jits nado.m Loosely translated: We must get on with the business of living - under Yuri Andropov just as under Leonid Brezhnev, who passed on Nov. 10 after running the Soviet Communist Party for nearly 20 years.

Comments from ordinary Muscovites, overheard or prompted, suggest a very real sympathy for the departed Brezhnev. But there has been nothing like the spontaneous explosion of emotion that followed the passing 30 years ago of Joseph Stalin, the last party chief to die in office.

''I remember my mother telling me how people just flowed into the streets, crushing each other, when they heard Stalin died,'' recounts one young Moscow woman. She says she does not think Russia needs, or will get, another Stalin. ''But Stalin was like a god.''

So unobtrusive was Moscow's initial response to the Nov. 11 announcement of Mr. Brezhnev's death that one American student fluent in Russian ambled around the downtown area nearly all day unaware the Soviet leader was gone.

The feeling for ''Leonid Ilyich,'' as Brezhnev is spoken of, seems a simple human impulse for a countryman so visibly weakening for so long. Perhaps one important change from the days of Stalin, is the the advent of politics-by-television, here as in the West. Maybe what matters is the greater distance from Stalin's years of purge and terror. But Leonid Brezhnev, to the extent that Russians ever really feel this way about a leader, is being mourned as a something of a relative, an amiable if very distant one.

A middle-age man in work clothes was asked what were Mr. Brezhnev's greatest contributions to the country, to its ordinary people. ''Leonid Iliych was a man who had a job,'' he replied after a few moment's thought. ''His job was to be head of the party. Head of the state. . . . And I think he did his job.''

Other men and women, particularly older ones, single out Mr. Brezhnev's role in preserving what has become some three decades of virtual peace - the fighting in Afghanistan seeming somehow small and far away to those who remember a world war that ended with millions of Soviet dead. But generally, the tributes are nonspecific, politically neutral. A human being, albeit one very remote from the sidewalks of Moscow, is gone.

And another one, only a little more remote, formally took place Nov. 12.

Asked for personal impressions of Yuri Andropov, the pedestrian, the man waiting for his bus, and the young woman ambling home reply almost identically at first: We cannot say. We do not know him personally.

One young man with a blond mustache pauses for a few moments, as if to arrange a portrait of Mr. Andropov inside his head, then ventures: ''What can one say? He is the kind of man who is in the Politburo.''

A young woman nearby notes Mr. Andropov's past post as a diplomat. ''Leonid Ilyich,'' she said, ''spent his career on internal things. So maybe you can say that he [Andropov] has more experience in diplomacy.''

No one mentions Mr. Andropov's nearly 15-year stint as head of the KGB. When asked about that period of his career, one well-dressed man offers: ''He is a member of the party, and he was doing his job there.''

Politically, the sidewalk expectation seems that Mr. Andropov will take on much the same style and policy as Leonid Brezhnev.

One, somewhat older man does hint things might not prove all this simple: ''In theory, of course every man is unique. But if there are changes, I think they will take some time to occur, maybe several years.''

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.