Soviet hotels are about to undergo a quiet revolution as the "dezhurnayas," the women who guard keys and morals on every hotel floor, are taken from their strategically located desks.
An article in the weekly Literary Gazette of Feb. 5 said that the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services in the Russian republic, the largest of 15 Soviet republics and which includes Moscow and Leningrad, has decreed that as of the beginning of this year, the "dezhurnaya" has been abolished.
Some hotels in Moscow have already complied with the edict; others will ease into what is expected to be a difficult, but money-saving, transition. According to the gazette, the Hotel Moskva expects to save 150,000 rubles a year by eliminating 130 dezhurnayas.
The author greeted the news with glee, as will other guests who have found the ladies at the end of the corridor to be yet another unwelcome example of intrusive Soviet authority.
The rest of the world has managed without dezhurnayas, the gazette noted: It is "marvelous" that the Russian republic has finally seen the light.
But according to some ex-dezhurnayas, there will be many hotel guests who will yearn for the days when there was always someone at the key desk to share a conversation and a cup of tea.
"It was done to economize," said one dezhurnaya who did the job for almost 10 years, "but I think it is too bad. And I think some guests do too. They come here on business trips, get back tired and they want to talk."
In principle, a dezhurnaya is there to give guests their room keys upon presentation of a hotel card which has been handed over at the registration desk as a substitute for a passport.
But in fact, the dezhurnaya is more than a key lady. She -- the male equivalent is unheard of -- rules the floor, controls the distributon of sheets and towels, supplies information and tea and, her mood permitting, a friendly nod or greeting.
Since she is centrally located -- usually at the top of the stairs -- and always on duty with little to occupy her time, the typical dezhurnaya is free to chat. Guests on occasion have found themselves having to interrupt particularly riveting conversations to get their keys.
But the job also had another function, widely resented by Soviets and foreigners alike. The dezhurnaya was there to represent "order," a sacred Soviet notion, and in that capacity would take it upon herself to make sure her guests behaved.
The Literary Gazette described how dezurnayas have been known to search under beds or in cupboards for unwelcome guests at all hours.
Last May, in another article, the same newspaper described how one young woman on a month-long stay at a hotel along the Volga River was regularly awakened by a team of administrators to make sure she was alone. The author described how every member of a delegation in Archangelsk was once "raided" at dawn by a dezhurnaya on a bed check.
"The dezhurnaya is a guardian of your morals -- be you an engineer, a scientist or a doctor," concluded the author in last week's issue. The jobs were not only "superfluous," but "harmful to the nervous system."
Their elimination in hotels in the Russian republics is a move toward efficiency in a industry known for a low level of service and excessive number of personnel.
Last Saturday, the government newspaper Izvestia compared a hotel in Czecholslovakia with one across the border in the Soviet Union: the Soviet hotel, with 600 rooms, had 680 employes. The Czech, with 198 employes, has 450 rooms.
At the Intourist, one of Moscow's giant hotels, the days of the dezhurnayas ended two years ago, when the hotel conducted what has turned out to be a trend-setting experiment.
Instead of eight people to a floor, four maids and four dezhurnayas, there is now a six-member brigade, where each member trades off shifts performing duties as both maid and key lady.
According to one former dezhurnaya, the changeover took place without layoffs. She works in the sevice bureau and a former colleague runs the elevator.
Next door, at the National Hotel, dezhurnayas are still in place; there apparently the concern is for valuable antiques and pictures that until now have been kept in place under their careful watch.