The Soviet Union is gingerly entering an era of "glasnost" or openness, an era Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev hopes will lead to improvements in Soviet life and the stagnating economy.

But it is also an era that is allowing the Western world its first comprehensive look at Soviet life since Josef Stalin brought the Iron Curtain down at the close of World War II. The question is whether such openness will bring tolerance and change.As is usually the case with such new-found freedom, the ugly side of things come quickly to the surface. Corruption in Communist Party leadership, the war in Afghanistan, the Armenian revolt in Azerbaijan - these are not the things typically reported by the Soviet press in the past.

But a country must look at its warts openly if it hopes to find permanent solutions that can be supported by the people.

Is this a course that Soviet leadership can adjust to and follow? Reports that the Supreme Soviet Presidium, with Gorbachev in attendance, is going to review the Armenian protests is an indication that such an effort will be made.

Armenian dissidents, while not given the kind of freedom such protesters commonly find in the U.S., are still receiving attention from the government, are getting press coverage (most of it admittedly negative), and just may get what they want.

The world should welcome the "glasnost" era and encourage its spread into other Eastern bloc countries.

The world should also exercise caution and patience. Change will come slowly and there will be occasional retreats. The rhetoric of the past, and even some of the animosity, will not quickly fade.