WASHINGTON (Mar. 31)
A group of leftwing activists in Baltimore, who are usually denouncing the United States for its policy in Central America, are now also protesting the refusal of the Soviet Union to allow the wife and son of a former Soviet Jewish dissident to join him in Baltimore.
Robert Kaufman, a Baltimore social activist who organized the protest among fellow opponents of U.S. policy, spent 20 minutes in the Soviet Embassy here Thursday in an effort to get the USSR to permit the family of Alexander Kostamarov to leave the Soviet Union.
Kaufman said his group of 61 activists should have more “credibility” with the Soviets than others who have supported Kostamarov because, he said, they “don’t really give a damn about Jews and only care about the rights of dissidents in non-capitalist countries.”
Kostamarov, an electrical engineer, came to the U.S. in 1979 after he was forced to divorce his non-Jewish wife, Tatania, and leave his son, Sergio, now 19. He recently conducted a three-and-a-half week fast during which he received support from Vice President George Bush.
When Kostamarov had to give up his fast on the orders of a doctor, several Baltimore residents decided to continue with it — each fasting for one or more days. Kaufman said when he read about it, he contacted people he worked with in an ad-hoc committee opposing U.S. policy in Central America and 60 of them agreed to join him in the fast. The most prominent of them is Philip Berrigan, an anti-Vietnam war activist in the 1960’s.
‘I WOULD BE A SOVIET DISSIDENT’
“The same universal concern for human life which motivated each of us to oppose U.S. foreign policy in Latin America has motivated us to emphathize with the plight of the Kostamarov family and to protest the violations of freedoms of speech of dissidents in the Soviet Union and the restriction on the rights of Soviet Jews and dissidents,” the group said in a statement given to the Soviet Embassy officials.
“If I was living in the Soviet Union I would be a Soviet dissident,” Kaufman said in a press conference outside the Embassy. “I live in the U.S. and I am an American dissident.”
Kaufman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency later that he is concerned that Jews are no longer as active in “progressive” movements as they once were. “I would like to see Jews as concerned about Catholic peasants in Central America as they correctly are about Soviet Jews,” he said.
The ad hoc group, while maintaining its members were not “uncritical apologists” for the Soviet Union blamed the U.S. for the decline in Jewish immigration as well as the cold war. Kaufman said 51,000 Jews emigrated from the USSR in 1979 but, when Washington began a “get tough” policy the Soviet Union “got tough” in return and emigration declined.
But he predicted increased emigration if the U.S. “would reinstitute detente, follow the Soviet lead in signing the no-first-strike pledge and agree to a nuclear freeze.”