NEW YORK (Dec. 1)
Officials in Moscow have removed an important obstacle to the immigration of Soviet Jews, less than a week before Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s expected arrival Tuesday in New York.
Soviet officials this week informed a large group of long-term refuseniks, many of them well known, that their purported knowledge of “state secrets” would no longer be used as grounds for barring their emigration.
As many as 120 refuseniks may be affected by the move, according to the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
News of the development came amid reports that Jewish emigration continued its steady rise last month. The National Conference reported Thursday that 2,334 Jews were permitted to emigrate in November, 179 of whom went to Israel.
Some 15,640 Jews have been allowed to emigrate so far this year, compared to 8,155 last year and a mere 914 the year before.
Knowledge of “state secrets” has long been used by Soviet authorities as a reason for barring the emigration of people who are presently or were previously working in jobs deemed to entail classified work. The secrecy designation is also applied to people who have served in the military forces.
Soviet government officials have frequently said they were working on resolving this hotly contested issue, in conversations with Jewish leaders and activists, interviews with Western journalists and exchanges with members of the American government.
Soviet leaders have sometimes maintained that the secrecy designation can be applied no longer than 10 years after a person leaves a job so classified. The reality is that the status is often extended for far greater duration.
Lifting of the secrecy designation does not guarantee permission to emigrate, but does clear a sizable obstacle in that path.
Lynn Singer, executive director of the Long Island Committee for Soviet Jewry and past president of the Union of Councils, said an authority at the OVIR emigration bureau in Moscow reported that 120 refuseniks were on a list either as having their secrecy designation lifted or as being permitted to emigrate.
The OVIR authority gave the information to Esfir Orlov, wife of one person whose secrecy status was lifted, Boris Orlov.
Singer received her information by phone from refuseniks, who were notified by Soviet authorities. Reports also were received by activists in Boston and Chicago.
On top of the list of those whose secrecy was lifted are Moscow refuseniks Yuli Kosharovsky, who has been waiting 17 years to emigrate; Vladimir Kislik, 15 years; Leonid Shabashov, 14 years; Boris Strelchik, 14 years; Yuri Cherniak, 12 years; and Boris Orlov, 11 years.
The National Conference reported that Ada Grauer of Chernovtsy had her secrecy lifed. Singer siad later information indicated that the entire Grauer family, including Ada’s husband, Mark, had received permission to emigrate.
SHUITZ WELCOMES PROGRESS
The Union of Councils also reported emigration permission for four other refuseniks from Moscow: Evgeny Rubenstein, refused 10 years; Oscar Mendelev, 15 years; and Lev Gecht, a nine-year refusenik whose secrecy status was lifted in August.
Vyacheslav Royak of Bendery also reportedly received permission to emigrate. He was last refused in August.
In Leningrad, the secrecy designation was lifted for, among others: Alexander Yampolsky,waiting 15 years; Roald (Alec) Zelichonok, 10 years; and Israel Zaidas, 10 years.
Alexander Pyatetsky, a 14-year refusenik from Kiev, also reported his secrecy lifted. His wife and children have been in the United States for six months.
Shoshana Cardin, newly elected chairwoman of the National Conference, welcomed the news, but said “it appears necessary to remind General Secretary Gorbachev” of refuseniks still designated as possessing state secrets.
She mentioned Evgeny Lein of Leningrad, and Inna and Igor Ouspensky of Moscow, as well as “others who appeal in vain to the authorities.”
In Washington, Secretary of State George Shultz praised the Soviet Union Wednesday for making major progress on human rights in recent years.
“The progress they have made is quite substantial,” Shultz told foreign viewers on the U.S. Information Agency’s “Worldnet” program.
“Still, there are political prisoners. Still, there are people being refused permission to emigrate,” Shultz added.
“We think it ought to be possible for people to travel or emigrate, and travel back and forth to their country as they choose,” he said.
(JTA correspondents Howard Rosenberg in Washington and Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)