Muscovites size up the new man in the Kremlin

New Soviet leader Yuri Andropov is getting generally high marks from ordinary folk at the bus stops and food shops of Moscow - as much for what he has not done as for what he may plan to do.

As portrayed, maybe in an idealized way, by Muscovites coping with the first real chill of winter, Yuri Andropov is a man who values caution, among other things.

He is also, they figure, a man who knows from his 15 years as head of the KGB security apparatus how to be tough, how to get things done, and who knows how to give just the proper dose of ''discipline'' to an economy and society nagged by instances of absenteeism, nepotism, corruption, and bureaucratic inertia.

''Andropov is a secret policeman,'' begins a man waiting for his bus home, displaying a frankness that is uncommon for Moscow sidewalk conversations. ''Our main worry was that he will turn out to be a Beria,'' a reference to Stalin's feared secret police chief.

''But so far, Andropov seems not at all that type. . . . More like Brezhnev. . . . That is good.''

Others seem to agree, although they are much more reluctant, particularly with a Western reporter, to revive memories of Joseph Stalin.

''Such things could not happen again here,'' says a tall blond university student. ''Then, the people were such that this was feasible. But ordinary people have changed. Times have changed. The leaders have changed.''

One seeming reflection of this sense is that Moscow's tradition of generally good-natured political jokes has wasted little time in rebounding since the loss of Mr. Brezhnev (himself a favorite subject of humor).

In the Soviet Union, the party Central Committee is known by its initials - pronounced tsay kah. With Andropov, the body has been popularly renamed: chay kah, a reference to the Cheka, or postrevolutionary secret police.

Meanwhile, a number of ordinary Muscovites seem agreed that a bit of KGB-vintage discipline might be a good thing for Soviet life.

''It is time to bring a little more order to things,'' says the university student.

Three giggly young secretaries from a government ministry agree. They say the early signs suggest Yuri Andropov is just the man to deliver.

But, they add, there will be nothing too rash. ''As for our office, where discipline is good,'' one of the young women says, ''I haven't noticed any immediate changes. . . .''

''I think there will be no radical change,'' offers a daintily dressed blonde girl walking to lunch from her academic institute near the city center.

Is radical change not necessary, as some say?

''No. Under Brezhnev, we had a life which was normal. . . . That was good, and I think it will continue.''

A small man with a blond moustache takes a slightly different view: ''There will be big changes,'' he says. ''Mostly having to do with the economy, in areas like agriculture.''

Among various ''welcome'' changes he foresees is a tightening of discipline. He then reveals that he is ''in a position to pay attention to such matters'': He works in the Internal Affairs Ministry.

But on a moment's reflection, he adds: ''By discipline, we mean not physical discipline, but economic measures involving salaries and the like. . . .''

At nearby foodshops, meanwhile, there seems little time for such talk. Most interest focuses on recently increased stocks of lemons, oranges, apples, and even, in at least some state shops, meat.

Such windfalls are generally ascribed to the approach of a major holiday. No one is quite sure whether the latest good fortune is thanks to Mr. Andropov, or to the coming commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Soviet statehood.

''We assume the situation may not last long,'' remarks a mother of two teen-agers. ''But it is good news all the same.''

Meanwhile, almost exactly a month after Leonid Brezhnev's passing, the late party chief's name has all but disappeared from the Pravda pages it once dominated.

Portraits of Mr. Brezhnev have come down - although they have not immediately been replaced by the bespectacled visage of his successor.

Mr. Brezhnev has not been denounced, or disavowed - simply reduced to human scale. Like almost everything else about Mr. Andropov's first weeks in power, the inevitable ''de-Brezhnevization'' has been pursued with caution and restraint.

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