NEW YORK (May. 11)
Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky made an emotionally charged appearance before tens of thousands of demonstrators here Sunday, saying that their solidarity with the cause of Soviet Jewry was responsible for his release.
“All the resources of a superpower was not enough to isolate a Jew who hears the voice of solidarity with his people,” Shcharansky told the huge mass of people gathered at the 15th annual Solidarity Sunday for Soviet Jewry rally in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across from the United Nations. “All this has become possible because of you.”
In a brief, 12-minute address, the recently released former Soviet Jewish Prisoner of Conscience said, “The solidarity of the people behind bars in the Soviet Union can be expressed only in spirit. But you, the people in the free world, can do much more.”
The 38-year-old mathematician who now lives in Israel added that the Soviet leadership “who delude themselves into thinking they can keep as prisoners 400,000 of our brothers, must understand that they will never be able to destroy our solidarity.”
The appearance of Shcharansky at the rally, sponsored by the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, is part of the former POC’s 12-day visit to the United States, his first since his release from the Soviet Union last February as part of an East-West exchange of prisoners. He was imprisoned by the Soviets for nearly a decade on charges of treason.
The rally, under brilliant spring afternoon skies, took on almost a festive atmosphere, apparently boosted by the realization that the leading symbol of the Soviet Jewish emigration movement had finally been freed and reunited with his wife Avital in Israel. She did not attend the rally on her doctor’s advice. She is in her second month of pregnancy.
The Solidarity Sunday demonstration began with the traditional march along Fifth Avenue, where thousands and thousands of people, wheeled baby carriages and others carried placards, urging freedom for Soviet Jews. Many chanted, “1,2,3,4 open up the iron door; 5,6,7,8 let our people emigrate.” John Cardinal O’Connor greeted the marchers as they passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
While the Soviets have released several well-known refuseniks and dissidents in the past months, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union is under 100 per month. Last month only 72 Jews emigrated from the Soviet Union. Some 400,000 have begun the emigration process and about 20,000 have been formally and repeatedly refused visas, earning the designation, “refuseniks.
The Reagan Administration’s continued commitment to the easing of the plight of Soviet Jews was outlined at the rally by Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead. Speaking on behalf of President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz, Whitehead said “We honor him (Shcharansky) as the incarnation of man’s determination to be free.”
Calling Shcharansky a “symbol … a hero of our time,” Whitehead added that “he is the first to remind us that others yearn to be free.” He noted that Shcharansky will meet Reagan and Shultz on Tuesday in Washington. He is also scheduled to meet with Congressional members, and received the Congressional Gold Medal, according to Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D. NY).
O’Connor, the head of the Archdiocese of New York, told the demonstrators that “I pray each day that those who wish to remain in the Soviet Union remain culturally and religiously free, and that those who wish to leave” will be allowed to do so.
In addition, there was the theme stressed by at least two speakers that the Soviet Union needs to respect the human rights of its Jewish citizens if the United States is to enter into any new bilateral agreements with the Kremlin. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R. NY) said the Soviets must live up to their previous international agreements, such as the Helsinki Accords.
Governor Mario Cuomo spoke in a similar vein. “There can be no lasting trust … no lasting basis of mutual agreement” until Jews are permitted to emigrate, practice their religion in the Soviet Union and all Prisoners of Conscience are released, he said.
But it was Shcharansky’s appearance after most of the political speeches that energized the demonstrators. He arrived at the podium nearly three hours after the start of the march and rally, escorted by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN.