TEL AVIV (Dec. 17)
Natan Sharansky, the Soviet Jewish activist who was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union in a 1986 spy swap, has been refused a visa to return there for a visit, the Soviet Jewish Zionist Forum disclosed Sunday.
Sharansky, who heads the forum, planned to lead a 10-member delegation to the founding conference of the Congress of Jewish Organizations and Communities in the USSR, a historic event being held in Moscow from Monday to Thursday of this week.
Sharansky also had planned to attend the funeral Monday of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, the most famous Soviet dissident and human rights advocate, who died suddenly on Dec. 14, at the age of 68.
Entry visas were apparently granted other members of the Zionist Forum, whose names rank with Sharansky as longtime refuseniks and activists for Soviet Jewry. They include Yosef Begun, Vladimir Slepak and Yuri Shtern.
In New York, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry reported another visa refusal Sunday, which it deplored.
The organization is sending a delegation to Moscow to attend the Soviet Jewish conference, as well as Sakharov’s funeral. The group departed Saturday evening.
But no visa was received in time for Constance Smukler of Philadelphia, an NCSJ vice chairwoman and longtime Soviet Jewry activist. However, she had received a visa to travel to the Soviet Union in October.
Martin Wenick, the organization’s executive director, expressed regret at the apparent denial. He charged that “the Soviet authorities’ action at this time indicates that remnants of their old thinking still exists.”
Visas were granted to Wenick, NCSJ Chairwoman Shoshana Cardin, Founding Chairman Richard Maass, Vice Chairman Joseph Sternstein and activist Marvin Verman.
Wenick pointed out that the Jewish conference is the first such event in Russia since before the Bolshevik Revolution.
It will be attended by hundreds of Jews from all parts of the Soviet Union, and numerous guests from abroad, to chart the future of the world’s third largest Jewish community.
Sharansky served nine years of a 30-year sentence for allegedly spying for the United States. He was freed in February 1986 as part of an East-West spy exchange, and went immediately to Israel.