Soviet authorities have begun a campaign of harassment and threats aimed at several of the country's leading literary figures who recently founded a new unofficial magazine to challenge tight government control of the arts.
Five members of the editorial board of the new magazine Metropol have been called in and upbraided by officials of the Soviet Writers Union, and several others have been threatened with expulsion for helping to produce the magazine.
Meanwhile, state publishing watchdogs in the two weeks since the journal was announced have begun rapidly withdrawing from circulation films, plays, novels and other publications containing articles by any of the 23 contributors to the first issue of Metropol. A movie by one of the editors, Andrei Bitcy. called "The First Day and Never More" was removed from several Moscow theaters where it was playing to large audiences.
Vassily Aksyonov, one of the country's most popular prose writers and principal editor of Metropol, said that a rumor campaign is being circulated against him, accusing him of seeking deliberate notoriety in the West so he can emigrace more easily.
Aksyonov, who has made several officially sanctioned trips to Western countries in recent years and whose stories have been translated into English, said he has no intention of seeking permission to emigrate.
"They are trying to separate us by accusing me," he said in an interview in a friend's Moscow apartment. "We are strong together and our biggest problem is not to be separated."
Metropol is remarkable for the fact that it unites in one effort works by many of the Soviet Union's most famous and officially approved writers, as well as works by young and less well-known contributors
Among the 23 contributors are Andrei Voznesensky, winner of the State Literature Prize, well-known poet Bella Akhamadulina, and Vladimir, Vysotsky, a popular Moscow actor and song writer. Along with these wellknown figures of contemporary Soviet literature are a number of younger writers and critics. These include Evgeny Popov, a young Siberian writer, and Viktor Yerefeev, a literary critic.
The first issue of Metropol, totaling about 250,000 words, numbers just eight copies, according to Aksyonov. Two copies have surfaced in the West, where there are plans for Russian and English editions.
Metropol's contents are apolitical, but include material that violates Soviet censorship, including explicit sexual references, assertions of the existence of an immortal soul and criticism of government control of the arts.
Aksyonov said one of the contributors, Fasil Iskander, has been accused by Writer's Union officials of "being 20 percent guilty," implying that if he breaks with Akstibiv, the consequences for his participation will be less severe.
"They have said that there are no anti-Soviet items in Metropol." Aksyonov related, "but that they consider this absence is an intrigue by us to appear innocent."
He said publishing officials "told us it is impossible to release Metropol without censorship." Many of the pieces in the first issue had previously been rejected by Soviet censors for inclusion in officiallly sanctioned works.
Aksyonov said Metropol's founders have told Soviet officials that since the magazine already has in effect been "published" -- because it is circulating both here and in France and the United States -- the state need not subject it to censorship, but simply publish it as is.
During the postwar years, many Soviet authors have been expelled on political grounds from the Writer's' Union. which prevents their works being published here. They support themselves by unofficial translations, tutoring, or from royalties of earlier works. Some receive income frome works published in the West.
Aksyonov said a movie for which he wrote the screenplay and was due to receive 12,000 rubles (about $18,000). has been withheld from distribution by Goskino, the state film enterprise, in retaliation.
Earlier this week, the founders of another magazine, one called Journey which espouses overtly political views by a group of Muscovites who call themselves socialists, complained that secret police had searched several of their apartments and confiscated some of their materials.
Lev Kopelev, a major dissident writer whose works are suppressed here but are circulated widely in the West, called the moves against Metropol and Journey "the shadow of Stalinism."