NEW YORK (Mar. 1)
In one of the largest events in the history of the pro-Soviet Jewry movement, activists, families of refuseniks and local government officials here gathered Thursday in more than 50 college campuses, 104 cities and 43 countries to read aloud the names of some 11,000 refuseniks.
At noon local time in their respective cities, Natan Sharansky began the chronicle in Jerusalem, Elie Wiesel in Paris and Mayor Ed Koch here. Thirty-six members of Congress read the names on Capitol Hill. Communities in Australia, South Africa, Brazil and England also participated in the demonstration, organized by B’nai B’rith International.
The list included all those Soviet Jews who had been refused permission to emigrate more than once. Organizers said about 360,000 others had requested permission to emigrate once. It was the same list presented by presidents of major American Jewish organizations to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the recent U.S.-Soviet summit in Iceland.
EACH CITY READ PART
Each city read a part of the list. In New York, the demonstrators read names of about half of the people refused in Moscow. San Francisco participants read names of refuseniks from Minsk. And in Los Angeles, refuseniks from Leningrad were noted. On some of the college campuses, students reportedly read all 11,000 names.
Vladimir Slepak, a 17-year refusenik who is still in Moscow, often tells Western visitors, “If you turn your eyes away from us for just a moment, we will cease to exist.” His son Alexander repeated those words here Thursday before reading the names of his parents, who have spent five years in Siberia.
“Slavery is an ugly thing and we are witnessing the slavery of our days in Russia,” Alexander Slepak said. “Vladimir Slepak has always been fighting for others to leave — that is why (the Soviet government) keeps him there.”
Koch recalled the last time he read names in protest — in 1971, while a member of Congress. But those were names of American soldiers killed in Vietnam. He noted that the pressure from demonstrations like that one eventually brought an end to the American involvement in Vietnam.
“In the Soviet Union, they don’t respond to the electorate,” Koch said. “But they do occasionally respond to the pressure of world opinion.”
He then offered this plea to Mikhail Gorbachev. “Let my people go … let our people go. That is what we are asking the Soviet Union.” Then he began to recite names — Boris Lifschitz, the Lieberman family, the Lerner family…