19 Western Scientists Refused Visas to Attend Confab in Moscow at the Home of a Jewish Dissident
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19 Western Scientists Refused Visas to Attend Confab in Moscow at the Home of a Jewish Dissident

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The Soviet Union has confused Western scientists by refusing to grant visas to 19 Western scientists hoping to attend an unofficial scientific conference in Moscow while granting them to 24 others.

Three American scientists and one Soviet emigrant, speaking at a press conference here said they did not understand why Soviet authorities denied seven Americans and 12 French scientists permission to go to the USSR to participate in the fourth annual Conference on Collective Phenomena which is sponsored by a group of Moscow refusnik scientists.

The conference was held from Sunday through today in the Moscow living room of one of its founders. Viktor Brailovsky, a Jewish activist and cybernetic specialist. Brailovsky like many other refusnik scientists, most of whom are Jewish, was expelled from his job in the official Soviet science system because of his attempt to emigrate. Cut of from access to research institutes and scientific journals. Brailovsky and other dissident scientists first organized the “refusnik seminar” in 1972 as a way to keep abreast of the latest scientific developments.

The refusniks invited foreign colleagues to the first international conference in 1974 to present papers and conduct discussions, but all the invited participants were denied visas. However, the second and third conferences in 1977 and 1978 were more successful.

Six of the Americans who were rejected applied for visas specifically to attend the conference. Another who had attended the 1978 conference had his application for a tourist visa rejected. But four Americans applying for tourist visas were accepted, as were 20 other Western scientists. At least four of the 20 had specified attending the conference on their visa applications.


Speaking at the offices of the New York Academy of Scientists today. Dr. Heinz Pagels, the Academy’s president-elect, said he did not know why some of the applicants were refused and others accepted.

The other participants. Dr. Max Gottesman cochairman of the Committee of Concerned Scientists and one of the six Americans refused Daniel McCracken, president of the Association for Computing Machinery; and Benjamin Levitch, a former Soviet activist who is now a science professor at the City University of New York, agreed that the Soviet officials’ motives were unclear. However, none of them believed that the U.S. Soviet strain in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the primary cause of the refusal.

McCracken, who had also been refused a visa, said the Soviets were sending a “message but he could not rule out the possibility of bureaucratic error. Gottesman said Soviet consular authorities in New York gave him several reasons for refusing to grant his visa.

He said the Soviets implied that conference host Brailovsky’s lack of official recognition was partly to blame and that the Soviets were also retaliating for the recent State Department refusal to grant visas to two Soviet scientists wishing to attend scientific conferences in the U.S.


Levitch, a sponsor and participant in the seminars and conferences before he emigrated from the USSR, stressed the purely scientific nature of the gathering. He said the exchanges with Western scientists were the “main sources of scientific life” for the refusniks. He said the refusal of visas signalled no change in their attitude toward the refusniks. “not better, not worse.”

But Gottesman said that the recent decline in the number of Jews allowed to emigrate was a bad sign. He said the Soviet refusal to recognize the conference and seminar meant the refusniks’ works would remain unacknowledged, leaving them open to the charge of “parasitism” which is a crime in the USSR.

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