WASHINGTON (May. 15)
Natan (Anatoly) Shcharansky stressed Thursday that it was vital for Western correspondents in the Soviet Union to maintain their contacts with Jewish activists and dissidents. “The free flow of information is a necessary condition of their survival,” he said in a speech to the National Press Club.
Shcharansky said many in the United States mistakenly believe he was sentenced to prison in the Soviet Union nine years ago on the “false” charge of providing “secret” information to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Instead, he explained, he was charged with “high treason” because of his “close contact” with the Western press, especially American correspondents, and for providing them accurate information on human rights conditions in the USSR and the plight of Soviet Jewry.
Shcharansky said Soviet Jewish activists and dissidents and the Western correspondents are “natural allies.” He noted that the correspondents are confined “practically in a ghetto” and the only Soviet citizens who will meet with them are the dissidents and Jewish activists.
He told a story of a West German correspondent who refused to attend a meeting he arranged with an ethnic German in Moscow because the correspondent feared he would be expelled from the USSR.
NO OTHER WAY OF WORKING WITH THE SOVIETS
“There is no other way of working with the Soviets, of keeping the world really informed of what is happening in this country, but irritating them,” Shcharansky stressed. “For them the very fact of passing unofficial information about the Soviet Union is a crime.” Shcharansky added that the Soviets said this “openly for the first time in my case” and can in the future use this to charge other Jewish activists.
To express his appreciation for the efforts of American correspondents, Shcharansky presented the National Press Club with a painting of the Western Wall by the Jerusalem artist, Yossi Stern.
CONCERNED ABOUT HIS MOTHER AND BROTHER
In response to a question, Shcharansky said he was concerned that his mother, Ida Milgrom, and his brother, Leonid, had not yet been allowed to emigrate as had been promised when he was released. But he said this will not make him “less outspoken” since if he were to do so there would be no chance they would be allowed to emigrate to Israel.
Asked about being a “secular Jew,” Shcharansky at first didn’t understand the term. “The Jewish religion is an important part of my life and it became a very important part of my life while I was in prison.” He said reading the Book of Palms in prison gave him a “strong spiritual communication with my wife, my people and the land of Israel” and helped him face his difficulties.
He added that his wife, Avital, “is an observant Jew and I am far from being an observant Jew” but these were just different ways of expressing the same spiritual feelings.
He noted that the Israeli press made much of the supposed religious differences with his wife, “but once I stopped reading this press all the problems disappeared.”
Asked whether he was concerned about Palestinian prisoners in Israel, Shcharansky replied that after just three months in Israel he was still trying to learn about its society. But he said that from the first moment he arrived in Israel he saw that it was a real democracy.
Israel’s Ambassador, Meir Rosenne, was on the podium when Shcharansky spoke. Shcharansky attended the Israel Embassy’s annual observance of Independence Day Wednesday.