NEW YORK (Jun. 11)
The Soviet Union is readying a far-reaching reform of its emigration laws that would permit Soviet citizens to travel and emigrate without going through the complicated channels currently necessary, according to a ranking official of the World Jewish Congress who recently saw a draft of the new legislation.
This information was corroborated by New York City Councilman Noach Dear, who recently returned from the Soviet Union with a translation of the draft legislation.
Dear has been visiting the Soviet Union regularly in the last few months as co-chairman of the Joint Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage.
The legislation reportedly is in its final stage of preparation. The Soviets hope to have it ready by July, although this is not definite.
A major change in Soviet emigration law could have a decisive influence on the willingness of American Jewish groups to consider a relaxation of trade sanctions against the Soviet Union.
Jewish groups have said repeatedly, for instance, that they would contemplate a waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment sanctions if the Soviets codify long-promised emigration reforms. The amendment denies most-favored-nation trade benefits to the Soviet Union until it improves its record on emigration.
A Jackson-Vanik waiver is expected to be a prime subject of discussion Tuesday at the Board of Governors meeting of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry in Washington.
CHANGES IN SECRECY RULE
The new Soviet legislation is expected to relax existing restrictions on emigration for those privy to “state secrets.”
It is also expected to eliminate the requirements that prospective emigrants obtain waivers of financial obligation from their parents and that they receive invitations from close relatives abroad.
Short-term visits would no longer require any invitation from abroad. And for long-term visits or emigration, invitations from any person, or even an institution, would be sufficient.
The secrecy rule would be modified so that there would be a five-year limit on the amount of time a prospective emigrant could be barred from leaving.
An exception would allow certain governmental agencies and industries to bar those privy to state secrets from emigrating for up to seven years.
In the past, the state secrecy rule has been used to deny Soviet Jews permission to emigrate for a dozen years or more after they left jobs said to be classified.
Under the new law, those refused permission to emigrate would have the right to appeal to an administrative commission of the Supreme Soviet, the legislative body that handles day-to-day policy matters.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said the proposed emigration reforms are, in part, “the result of our various meetings in the Soviet Union in the last several months, ranging from those involved in drafting the legislation in the Foreign Ministry to Politburo members.”
The most recent meeting of this kind occurred last week, when WJC President Edgar Bronfman met with Alexander Yakovlev, a powerful Politburo member considered to be a senior ally of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
In addition to the emigration law, the Soviet Union is preparing a regulation that for the first time would enable those under the age of 18 to study religion, Councilman Dear reported. The law would also permit the teaching of religion by adults.
Dear said both the religion regulation and the emigration law are being formulated by commissions appointed by the new Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies. He said that even before the new laws are promulgated, emigration for refuseniks may be eased.
Steinberg of WJC predicted Soviet Jewish emigration this year would hit or possibly exceed the record 1979 level of 51,320. The 1990 figures could be at least 70,000, he said.
NEW RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS MINISTER
Dear, who returned Thursday from Moscow also announced two significant personnel changes.
The Soviet minister of religious affairs, Konstantin Kharchev, has been replaced by Ivan Kristorodnov, former speaker of the Supreme Soviet and previously first secretary of the Communist Party in Gorky.
Kristorodnov, said Dear, assured him “that he would follow the ways of Kharchev, to continue the religious life and to help religious organizations.”
Dear also reported that Boris Gramm, the longtime president of Moscow’s main synagogue, has been replaced by Vladimir Federofsky, 41.
Federofsky, said Dear, has “asked the religious community to partake in the Choral Synagogue.”
He wants to make the Choral Synagogue as important to religious Jews as the Marina Roscha Synagogue, the center for Orthodox Jews in Moscow and the site of a Lubavitch yeshiva.
Unlike his predecessor, Federofsky is working with ultra-Orthodox Jews, including refuseniks and those involved with the new yeshiva established by Israeli Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.
Dear said Federofsky has agreed to kasher the synagogue kitchen using a mashgiach (kashrutauthority) selected by the Joint Committee, an Orthodox Jewish group based in New York.
In another development, Steinberg reported that delegates to the recent Jewish conference in Riga, Lativa, formally proposed the establishment of a Soviet Jewish Congress that would serve as the representative body of the WJC in the Soviet Union.
The Lithuanian Jewish Cultural Society has asked for formal membership in the WJC. Its chairman, Emmanuel Zinger, who is visiting New York for the second time in less than a month, presented the WJC with a petition for membership last Wednesday.