ROME (Nov. 29)
Mikhail Gorbachev seems to be taking Rome by storm. But the estimated 10,000 Soviet Jewish refugees waiting for U.S. visas in nearby Ladispoli are not impressed by the author of perestroika.
“With Gorbachev, something is changed for the Soviet, but not for us Jews,” said a former electrical engineer from Moscow.
“It’s true, the prisons and labor camps are gone, but everyday problems remain,” he said.
The Soviet president and Communist Party leader got a frenzied welcome from Romans when he arrived here for a three-day visit prior to his summit meeting with President Bush this weekend off the shores of Malta.
Their euphoria is not shared by Jews who have only recently fled the Soviet Union. Some credit Gorbachev with being an “intelligent man” who wants change but does not know how to achieve it.
Others are less charitable. Simon, a refugee waiting for a visa to go to Philadelphia with his wife and child, said, “Gorbachev talks a lot, but does absolutely nothing.”
“In the 1970s, the shops in Kiev were full of food. Nowadays, the lines start early in the morning, and you still can hardly find anything,” he said.
A young refugee who said she was going to the U.S. Consulate in Rome while Gorbachev was arriving said, “I don’t wants to see Mr. Gorby, not even with a pair of binoculars.”
Nevertheless, it was Gorbachev’s policies that opened the doors to a flood of Jews leaving the Soviet Union, few of whom want to go to Israel.
Most of the 10,000 Jews temporarily housed in Italy are waiting for visas to the United States. A few have opted to go to Canada or Australia.
They are probably the last Soviet Jews who will pass in transit through Italy. A change in U.S. policy went into effect Oct. 1 that requires applicants for refugee visas to apply directly at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.