Asked recently how he spent his spare time, Mikhail Gorbachev demurred for a moment, then replied, ``We don't have any - not just me but the whole Soviet leadership.'' A glance at the Soviet leader's public schedule shows that this is not just rhetoric. It also raises the question of how long Mr. Gorbachev and his colleagues can keep going at the pace they have set themselves.
The guiding force behind Gorbachev's economic and political reforms seems to be a small group of Communist Party leaders, all of whom are pushing themselves hard. At the moment, the main obstacles to Gorbachev's reforms are bureaucratic intransigence and political resistance. But in the long run, physical exhaustion could prove to be an equally serious challenge.
In one recent and fairly typical nine-day period, (May 12-20) Gorbachev made nine public appearances. He has since made for a two-day visit to Romania, to be followed by at least two days in East Berlin for a summit meeting of the Warsaw Pact. On his return, he will be preparing for an important plenary session of the party Central Committee.
Gorbachev's schedule in the nine-day period included talks with the Bulgarian leader Todor Zhivkov, over six hours of discussions with the French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac (the day before Gorbachev had turned up unannounced at an official lunch for Mr. Chirac), two sessions of talks with the Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Linh, and a 1-hour interview with the Italian Communist Party newspaper L'Unit`a. During this period, he also fitted in a three-day visit to the space launch site at Baikonur, more than 1,200 miles from Moscow. And he sat through part of the first day of the congress of the Union of Artists.
Gorbachev is not the only workaholic in the leadership. Boris Yeltsin, the Moscow party chief, says he works an 18- to 20-hour day, from 6:00 a.m. to midnight. Asked recently about his spare time, he gave the same answer as Gorbachev, though he could recall two films he had seen - made in 1977 and 1983.
Though he gives away few details about his private life, Gorbachev did admit in his interview with L'Unit`a to an interest in mathematics and economics.
Something is also known about his literary interests. He told Indian journalists last November that he was reading Chingiz Aitmatov's ``The Executioner's Block,'' one of the year's most controversial novels. The book deals with the impact of humans on nature - including the mass slaughter of saiga (a kind of antelope) by officials in Soviet Central Asia. He is said to like the spy stories of Yulian Simyonov. He and his wife enjoy the theater - particularly it seems the Taganka theater (he saw Moli`ere's ``Misanthrope'' there last year). He has also expressed admiration for the writer Yuri Trifonov.
Finally, if Gorbachev agrees with his wife Raisa on the question of art, he is also an admirer of Ilya Glazunov - a painter whose nationalist views and artistic talents are the subject of regular debates here.
Soon after a major Glazunov exhibition in Moscow last summer, a signed card from Raisa Gorbachev was prominently displayed in Mr. Glazunov's apartment, which is hung with icons and portraits of the imperial family. Mrs. Gorbachev's liking for Glazunov seems to give her at least one point in common with another first lady: Members of the artist's entourage say that Nancy Reagan is also a Glazunov fan.