MOSCOW, DEC. 15 -- For the past five days, a half-dozen apartments around Moscow opened their doors to a movable, unauthorized seminar on human rights, an event seen here as unprecedented in the history of recent dissident activity.
"Whether Gorbachev going to Washington was an historic event is still debatable, but that this is historic there can be no doubt," said Dmitri Silvestrov, a translator and activist, as he listened on Sunday to a debate on nationality problems in an overcrowded two-room apartment.
Barred from meeting in public halls, several hundred people from inside and outside the Soviet Union jammed into overheated rooms to hear more than 200 different reports advocating release of political prisoners, withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, abolition of capital punishment, a public apology for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and other challenges to Soviet policy.
Today, at a final session, the diverse group adopted resolutions promoting these and other causes and pledged to continue monitoring human rights here. The last unofficial Soviet rights group was broken up by arrests, jailings and exiles in the early 1980s.
Lev Timofeyev, a member of a club called Glasnost and a former political prisoner, said participation exceeded the sponsors' expectations. "The hunger for independent information is so great that no Moscow apartment can accommodate it," he said.
The well-publicized seminar was billed as a test of Kremlin tolerance, but it also proved to be an example of the Soviet government's uncertain, sometimes conflicting response to dissent in these days of openness.
Besides closing down three meeting halls booked in advance by the seminars' organizers, authorities harassed a number of participants, warning people that the event was illegal and in several cases detaining them at train stations as they made their way to Moscow.
Visas for some prominent guests, including western left-wing activists, were denied. Throughout the five days, KGB security forces kept a close watch on the seminar's activities, posting squads of agents outside buildings where meetings were taking place.
While Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was meeting last week with President Reagan in Washington, police and the KGB kept a tight rein on any attempts at public demonstrations in the capital. They detained about 100 demonstrators, flooding protest sites with plainclothesmen and deporting some activists out of the city.
But while cracking down on public activities, authorities apparently decided in the end to tolerate the seminar. With regular announcements to the foreign press and translations for visitors who did not speak Russian, the event took on a public character that veteran activists, some of whom were released from prison this year, said was unthinkable even in the heyday of the human rights movement of the early 1970s.
Besides such prominent movement veterans as Larissa Bogoraz, Sergei Kovloyov and Sergei Grigoryants, the seminar drew representatives from groups as varied as Ukrainian nationalists, Crimean Tatars and religious figures. Students from Moscow State University reported on the consequences of their protest against the firing last month of Moscow party chief Boris Yeltsin.
Representatives of foreign rights groups included Gerald Nadler, director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. The federation, an umbrella organization of 13 groups that monitor compliance with the 1975 Helsinki accords, accepted the Glasnost club as a member in October and will return in January for meetings with Soviet officials.
The government's attitude toward this week's seminar was being closely watched because the Soviet Union wants to host an official conference on human rights in Moscow under the auspices of the Helsinki agreement. Some observers noted that the linking of the two events might explain why authorities did not take harsher measures against the seminar.
Timofeyev said the proposed official conference was one of the issues that divided participants. "The farther people live from Moscow, the more skeptical their opinion about holding a conference," he said, noting that authorities in the provinces have been markedly less tolerant than in the capital.
Some participants described the gathering as an event that will help define the future of the human rights movement. A debate over whether human rights activists should maintain a dialogue with authorities already has caused a division, they said. They noted, however, that the success of the seminar lay in the fact that it did not break into factions, despite disagreements.