MOSCOW, JULY 11 -- A burst of demonstrations here this week by groups representing some of the disgruntled and outcast of the Soviet Union has signaled an important turn in Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or general openness.
Until recently, signs of glasnost here were limited to exposes and criticism in some official newspapers and to films and plays that dealt with topics once considered taboo in the Soviet Union, like the abuses of power under former Kremlin leader Joseph Stalin.
But as Soviet dissenters heighten their profile with everything from private gatherings to demonstrations near the doorsteps of the Kremlin, so do their opponents, with Moscow police using force and some officials using legal loopholes and other tactics to control dissident activity.
Defying a ban against them, 50 Soviet adherents to the Hare Krishna religious sect demonstrated in a central Moscow park last Sunday. Chanting, singing and handing out food and information, they appealed to the public for support and touched off a week of similar actions by other groups.
On Monday, for example, disgruntled Soviet Tartars took their gripes to the seat of Soviet power. Staging a sit-in on Red Square a few yards from the Kremlin, 30 representatives of the thousands of Crimean Tartars deported to Soviet Central Asia during the 1940s demanded that they be allowed to return to their homeland on the Black Sea.
The next day a group of former Soviet political prisoners launched a new club, called Glasnost. Opening a living room in Moscow to all comers, they pleaded for penal code reform, including the repeal of many laws limiting free speech.
The shift of protests from the letters columns of official organs of glasnost to the streets, and from private meetings to open forums, suggests that glasnost has broad appeal and that some citizens are growing bolder in using it to push their causes.
In interviews this week, Hare Krishnas and former political prisoners acnowledged that they are taking public actions they would have avoided a few months ago.
"Even under glasnost, the areas in which public conversation and criticism are allowed have certain limits," said Lev Timofeyev, a former political prisoner and chief organizer of the Glasnost club. "We're trying to use the rights the policy of glasnost gives us to expand those limits."
One Hare Krishna follower who participated in a demonstration Sunday in the Sportivnaya section of Moscow said, "It's true that we feel freer to demonstrate because of the official positions supporting glasnost and democratization." Hare Krishna has been banned by Soviet authorities and about 25 members of the sect are in prison,
Protesters believe they have been supported by a number of official actions, such as the law passed by the Supreme Soviet last week calling for widespread public discussion of political issues.
There is an official move afoot to limit the spread of glasnost, however.
Early in May, for example, Moscow militia policemen broke up a gathering of Soviet youths, likened to Americsn "hippies" of the 1960s, according to a dispatch last week in the official Communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda. While the young people lay in the road to protest, the police began "roughly pushing" them in patrol cars, and one youth ended up in the hospital with a broken nose, the article said.
Some released political prisoners are being denied the right to live in Moscow, dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov said in a press conference here yesterday..
Ogorodnikov, imprisoned for eight years for his Christian religious beliefs and released in a mass pardon of political prisoners in February, has been ordered out of the city by Soviet militia, he told reporters. He has nowhere else to go, he said.
Other dissidents have been forced to leave the Soviet Union altogether in recent months.
Although Moscow is the fountainhead of dissident activity in the Soviet Union, neither public dissent nor the repression of it is limited to the nation's capital.
In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, 80 miles from site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, hundreds of residents -- according to oral reports -- used the first anniversary of the explosion for a public demonstration to demand compensation for damage they had suffered.
In Leningrad, the Soviet Union's second largest city, people gather every weekend at a "speakers' corner" in the Alexander Garden, a central park, where those who choose to expound whims, political theories or gripes.
In Moscow there sre clubs that meet regularly, have open membership and an open microphone, and encourage the discussion of political and social issues.
In the Latvian capital of Riga, 5,000 Lativans gathered on the anniversary of the Soviet Union's annexation of the Baltic republics -- June 14 -- to protest continued Soviet occupation of the region, according to protest organizers interviewed here last week.
The consequences of the demonstration, which continued to bubble for three days, suggest the limits of glasnost, however.
According to Rolands Silaraups, one of the organizers, a member of the Latvian Central Committee blasted the participants in a television broadcast the following day.
Silaraups is the 21-year-old head of the Latvian branch of the Helsinki Watch group, an unofficial human rights organization. Last week he was ordered to leave the Soviet Union, he said.