Since Vitaly Korotich took over as editor of Ogonyok seven months ago, the magazine has published an article on young right-wing toughs in the suburbs of Moscow, an expos'e of police torture, and a major contribution to the rehabilitation of the poet Nikolai Gumilyov, shot in 1921. Such features have led many to regard Ogonyok as the most interesting example of the new outburst of aggressive Soviet journalism. A weekly magazine that used to be famous solely for its crossword puzzle, it now throws out ideas ``like a hooligan,'' Mr. Korotich says. It has a circulation of 1.5 million and is so popular that it is practically impossible to buy on the newsstands.
Korotich says his aim is simple: ``To say everything that one can, while we can.''
Asked if there are any taboos left for the Soviet mass media, he said: ``I don't know. We're trying to see.''
``Right now I don't perceive any censorship. The old censor's organization, the directorate for the protection of state secrets, still exists. But now they're actually protecting state secrets - rockets and things - and nothing else.''
``The only feeling I'm aware of at the moment is a sense of personal caution.''
This does not appear to be very highly developed in Vitaly Korotich, however. Ogonyok's previous editor, though, was not very adventurous: He had a little calendar showing whose photograph should be published in which edition of the magazine, and whether the person's picture should be in black and white or color.
Korotich's style is new.
``We've got to make people think. A lot of them don't want to think. People are complacent and afraid of change. We have to try to change the moral atmosphere.''
Last week Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev talked to senior Soviet editors. The thrust of the conversation, Korotich says, was that if you end the policy of openness (glasnost), you end the whole reform process that Mr. Gorbachev is championing.
Much of that battle for reform is being waged by the media, with Ogonyok in the forefront. But even some major editors are lukewarm to the new ideas, Korotich feels.
``Up to now we've been shadowboxing over reforms. Now it's a real fight. There are real threats. Real phone calls. People call and say, `Things will go back to the way they were, and then you'll shut up.'''
``I don't think there's any alternative to what Gorbachev's doing. I know I don't want to live the old way.''
In the long run, he says, he is an optimist. But there is a real struggle going on. The meeting with Gorbachev showed that the leadership's support for glasnost was strong, but that ``a lot of people were still opposed to it.'' The opposition came from some of the editors.
``Of course they didn't say, `We're against glasnost.' They said, `Do we really need to touch on all the painful points in our history?' They wondered about the consequences of constant criticism of the system.'' Gorbachev took the opposite line, Korotich says. ``He told the meeting, if we have real democratization, that means that everyone can be criticized, including himself.''
For example, major discussion is going on about the painful points in Soviet history, Korotich says.
``Is it necessary or not to talk about 1937 [the high point of the Stalinist purges]? I think so. Until we resolve the question of [the behavior of Soviet dictator Joseph] Stalin we'll never move forward. Other people object. They say: `Do we want to create the impression that the achievements of socialism were based on a crime?' And others - very sober people - feel that, well, Stalin may have been a bandit, but he got things done.''
In fact, Korotich says, the current climate in the Soviet Union and the United States has roused Soviet conservatives. ``It's interesting: Conservatives here and in the US really need each other these days. Their interests are growing together,'' he says.
``Take [the ABC television mini-series] `Amerika.' Conservatives here love it. They say, `Here is proof that the US is developing a warlike mentality.' And every time they hear of a speech by [Defense Secretary Caspar] Weinberger, they say, `See, we have to be strong to face up to the US threat.'''
Science shows how to deal with conservatives, Korotich says. ``We are now taught that dinosaurs died out because the climate changed. So we have to change the climate.''