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Emigres Denounce Soviet Releases as Cynical Gesture

December 4, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Soviet emigres, among them Natan Sharansky, on Friday said the Soviets’ pre-summit release of as many as 73 people was a cynical gesture that makes little change in the Kremlin’s overall emigration policy.

″These are presents to the Americans on the eve of the summit. They are not the real solution,″ said Mikhail Kholmiansky, a Hebrew teacher whose brother is of one of the people told this week they may emigrate.

Kholmiansky, Sharansky and other activists called a news conference in Washington to detail plans for a massive demonstration on behalf of Soviet Jews on Sunday, the day before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s arrival for a summit with President Reagan.

But their discussion soon turned to this week’s announcements in Moscow that some Soviets who had been waiting years to emigrate had finally been given permission to leave. It still was not clear Friday how many emigration cases had been cleared.

A diplomatic source in Moscow said 73 emigration cases have been cleared by a special commission in the Soviet Union. A second source said the Soviets had supplied the United States with 15 names, including those of ″refuseniks″ and several separated spouses. But the source said the 15 names supplied to the Americans likely were what are regarded by the Soviets as ″cases,″ or the names of a senior family member representing all the other family members.

Sharansky, a former prisoner in Soviet labor camps who was permitted to emigrate to Israel in 1986, linked the action in Moscow to the release of other high-profile ″prisoners of conscience″ prior to meetings between Soviet and American officials.

″How upsetting the cynicism of this,″ Sharansky said. ″We cannot have meetings with (Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard) Shevardnadze every week.″

″This is important to the individuals, of course, but for our movement, it’s important what kind of policy (there is) on the question of Jewish emigration,″ he said.

American Jewish leaders echoed Sharansky’s comments, saying they remain disappointed in the overall number of Soviets granted exit visas.

″All people welcome the idea of glasnost. But it has not yet applied to Soviet Jewry,″ said Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, organizers of Sunday’s rally. There has been ″no change whatsoever″ in the status of Jews under Gorbachev, he said.

″On the question of emigration, it is very clear his position is stuck in concrete,″ Abram said.

Abram said he and rally organizers were not calling for an arms agreement to be directly linked to progress on human rights issues, but said ″it would redound to the disadvantage of the credibility of the Soviet Union″ if isues such as Jewish emigration are not dealt with.

The rally organizers said the demonstration is not aimed at disrupting or protesting the summit, but as a positive gesture of support for human rights issues they xpect Reagan to raise.

″We want to emphasize that we do want peace, but it would matter what kind of peace there would be and what kind of life there would be in that peace,″ Kholmiansky said.

Vice President George Bush, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel are among the people scheduled to address the rally, expected to be the largest ever in the nation’s capital for a Jewish cause.

Meanwhile, about two dozen people gathered across the street from the Soviet Embassy Friday afternoon to hold an opening ceremony for the Sabbath and to demand exit visas for Jews who want to leave the Soviet Union.

Rabbi Avraham Weiss, national chairman of the Center for Russian Jewry, said the group was ″appalled″ that a meeting with U.S. business executives had been arranged for Gorbachev. The organization demanded that non-strategic trade with the Soviet Union be linked to progress on human rights issues.

″America and American banks should not be lending money to the Soviet Union until the doors are open,″ Weiss said.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Helsinki Commission, meeting on Capitol Hill, heard from a group of former Soviet refuseniks who complained about various human rights abuses in the Soviet Union.

″We don’t ask anything of Russia,″ said Maria Slepak, whose husband, Vladimir, was for 17 years denied permission to leave the country because of his knowledge of classified information. ″We simply want to get out. Yet what continues is the senseless persecution of people.″

The witnesses also were uniformly critical of Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness.

Sharansky, who also appeared before the commission, contended, ″Glasnost does not mean freedom of speech. It means only that people can say some things approved by the government.″

Added Lev Elbert, who has been the subject of anti-Semitic articles in the Soviet press: ″Glasnost does not mean just openness. Its first meaning (in the Russian dictionary) is publicity.″

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