Optimism Sparked by USSR Decision to Grant Exit Visas to Some Refuseniks

The decision of the Soviet authorities to grant exit visas to four prominent long-time refuseniks and others sparked optimism here that a general relaxation of emigration restrictions is under way in the Soviet Union.

The four, all former Prisoners of Conscience, expected to arrive in Israel soon are Iosif Begun, 55, Viktor Brailovsky, 52, Vladimir Lifshitz, 46, and Semyon Yantovsky, 78. But aliya sources noted that 23 other former prisoners are still waiting for exit permits. Chaim Chesler, secretary general of the Public Council for Soviet Jewry, stressed that pressure must continue on the Soviet leadership on their behalf.

Premier Yitzhak Shamir expressed hope Monday that the others, including such prominent activists as Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepak, will soon be allowed to leave. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres sent congratulations to Begun and Brailovsky. “Your dedication to the idea of the renaissance of the Jewish people in its homeland is the great light illuminating our way,” his cable said.

Haim Aharon, head of the Jewish Agency’s immigration department, noted a rise in aliya this year and attributed it mainly to the arrival of Jews from the USSR. So far, 936 Soviet Jews have come to Israel compared to 200 during all of 1986. The Soviets have issued the largest number of exit visas this year since 1981. Nevertheless, the “dropout” problem remains. The great majority of the 4,681 Jews who left the Soviet Union this year did not go to Israel.

Senior officials here said the change in Soviet emigration policy is another manifestation of the new policy of “glasnost” (openness) introduced by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. They attribute it in part to the forthcoming meeting between Foreign Minister Peres and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in New York, the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution and the possibility of a Gorbachev visit to the U.S. this year.

NEXT STORY