NEW YORK (Oct. 5)
A survey devoted to a major review of the Soviet Union’s implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in regard to the Soviet Jewish community, was submitted to Assistant Secretary of State Hodding Carter by Marina Wallach and Aaron Goldman, representatives of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ).
The 64-page survey which was prepared last June with data through May by a Helsinki monitoring committee comprising representatives of Jewish communities of several countries, including the United States, was released on the eve of the Belgrade conference which began yesterday to review progress in human rights, European security and cooperation since the Helsinki accord was signed by 35 nations in 1975.
In releasing the document, Stanley H. Lowell, chairman of the NCSJ Helsinki Monitoring Committee, said in New York, “While the record is disappointing, the balance sheet of the performance is submitted in a constructive spirit and in the hope that it may facilitate the exchange of views on the implementation sought in the follow up arrangements of the Helsinki Final Act.”
The NCSJ said it has been assured by Rep. Dante Fascell (D.Fla.) and Sen. Claiborne Pell (D.R.I.), co-chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that copies of the report, “Soviet Jewry and the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act,” will have been made available to the 25-member U.S. delegation at the Belgrade meeting.
186,000 REQUESTED EXIT VISAS
According to the report, since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, emigration visas for Soviet Jews, despite a rise in late 1976 fell at the beginning of 1977 and has in fact been lower than the number of visas granted prior to the signing of the Act. Figures compiled for the survey demonstrate that at the end of 1976, the number of Jews who had requested invitations but had not yet succeeded in leaving the country was about 186,000. Last year alone the excess of invitations over exit permits was about 22,000.
According to the report, Soviet officials have also refused exit visas to Soviet Jews because, they claim, granting such visas would “separate families.” However, there are provisions in the Final Act which are designed to “contribute to the solution of humanitarian problems, “that is, to enable family members to live with the relatives they choose. The report concludes that the Soviet Union is deliberately distorting the meaning of the Helsinki Final Act and dividing Jewish families.
It also highlights that Soviet visa officials arbitrarily forbid emigration to individuals on grounds of secrecy, and security in the most “arbitrary fashion.” In dealing with harassment, the survey states that “the most serious cases of harassment are the Prisoners of Conscience,” who have been “arrested, tried and convicted of various charges because of their desire to emigrate to Israel and their activities demanding these rights for themselves and Soviet Jews in general. These Jewish POCs are detained in the most lamentable conditions and the health of several of them has deteriorated drastically.”
FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS AREA OF CONCERN
One of the other major areas of concern, detailed in the survey, is the matter of freedom of religion and culture. The Helsinki Final Act states that participating states will “recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in the community of others, religion or beliefs in accordance with the dictates of one’s own conscience.”
According to the report, the USSR has subjected the freedom of Soviet Jews to religious expression to “numerous and fundamental abridgements creating a gap between the legal norm and the reality.” As examples of these abridgements the report notes that the Soviet Jewish community has no all-Soviet or regional organizations, they are unable to maintain contact with Jews abroad, no religious periodicals, bulletins or literature are published, Judaic ritual objects are not manufactured and there is de facto suppression of rabbinical training within the USSR.
Fifty years ago there were more than 1100 synagogues in the USSR. Though Soviet figures today claim that there are 92 synagogues remaining, Jewish organizations initiating this report could establish the addresses of only 57. The position of Soviet Jews since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act has “in no way improved,” the report states.
Possibly the worst feature of the treatment of the Jewish religion in the USSR, according to the report, is the introduction of anti-Judaic propaganda into all forms of the Soviet media. The report concludes that Soviet Jews are the most disadvantaged national minority in the USSR. Jews seeking to leave who voice their wishes via legal means (foreign press, appeals, etc.), have been subjected to the “greatest difficulties, repression and criminal prosecution.”