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Moscow Circus Performers Defect, Arrive In Miami

August 7, 1986

MIAMI (AP) _ A husband and wife tightrope team with the famed Moscow Circus arrived in Miami today after defecting during the circus’ visit to Buenos Aires.

″We want to be free, free people,″ Bertalina Kazakova said at a news conference. ″We don’t like our Soviet life.″

″We are happy. We are happy ... very happy to be here,″ she said earlier as she and her husband, Nikolai Nikolski, arrived at Miami International Airport.

″We are artists of the high-wire circus. We hope luck in America,″ she said before an unmarked blue U.S. government car sped away with the couple.

An interpreter who met the couple at the Immigration and Naturalization Service office here said the two performers had taken a tour of Buenos Aires two weeks ago in which the guide pointed out the U.S. Embassy.

They left their Buenos Aires hotel Monday while circus officials were away, said Esther Shatkhin, the translator.

The couple fled with only a few possessions - a photo of their dog they left behind in Moscow, film from their performance and a magazine featuring their act.

″Their defection is going to be a big shock to everybody in the circus world,″ Ms. Shatkhin said.

The couple said circus officials did not expect them to defect because they were materially were well off, she said.

″They said that when they stepped the first time on American earth, they don’t know what (astronaut Neil) Armstrong felt when he walked on the moon, but they thought they felt the same,″ she said.

In an interview earlier in Buenos Aires, the couple said they decided to defect because of the artistic and personal repression in the Soviet Union, which Ms. Kazakova compared to the novel ″1984.″

Perry Rivkind, district director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, said he picked up Ms. Kazakova and her husband, Nikolai Nikolski, at the airport and took them to his office.

″They have asked for asylum. They asked if there was a refugee organization that could take care of them for a while,″ Rivkind said.

″They’re very tired,″ he added.

Rivkind said he was not sure what plans had been made for the couple by officials in Washington.

Nikolski and Ms. Kazakova performed with the circus for 10 years, getting a long-awaited chance to defect when the circus made its annual trip to Argentina, a U.S. official who requested anonymity said Wednesday in Buenos Aires.

Although the couple did not meet strict requirements for status as political refugees, they were granted permission to immigrate and establish residence in America, diplomatic sources said.

The circus’ visit to Buenos Aires, which began July 3, was the couple’s first trip outside a Soviet bloc nation, the official said.

″In my 12 years in the circus business, this is the first time I’ve been in a capitalist country,″ Nikolski said.

The five-member high-wire act also included Nikolski’s younger sister, his wife’s younger brother, and a fifth, unrelated person. The other three members of the act did not defect.

Monday was an off-day for the troupe and, on the guise of sightseeing, the couple slipped away and telephoned U.S. authorities with their asylum plea. They were taken to a safe location while officials considered the case.

The performers left Argentina on an Eastern Airlines flight from Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport late Wednesday with fresh U.S. residency papers, according to official sources in Buenos Aires.

They arrived in Miami at 6 a.m. today.

In an interview Wednesday before their departure, the couple said their decision to defect was not a last-minute decision and complained bitterly about artistic and political repression in the Soviet Union.

″We came to this decision a long time ago,″ said Nikolski, a blond, clean-cut, athletic-looking man. ″We’ve been waiting for the proper moment to carry out our plan.″ His wife said the decision was made in 1978.

Ms. Kazakova said through a translator in the Buenos Aires interview they decided to flee, ″because of the political process. Even our awarded artists don’t live as freely as people assume.″

″We want to be free citizens and above all, citizens of the United States. We don’t have the right to decide in what cities we live. We can’t negotiate our contracts, we can’t even decide what acts we are going to perform,″ she said.

″That’s on the professional side,″ Nikolski added. ″On the personal side, in the Soviet Union, the only way you can live is think one way, speak another way and act a third way.″

His wife said: ″As in Orwell, we would speak one way and think another.″ She was referring to ″1984,″ the futurist novel of a totalitarian state by British author George Orwell.

The novel is banned in the Soviet Union, but Ms. Kazakova said, ″We are a well-read people, even if the books are banned.″

Nikolski said they would try to settle ″wherever there is a circus.″

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