Delay on Soviet Emigration Bill Disappoints Some, Relieves Others

The Soviet legislature’s failure this week to adopt a long-awaited bill institutionalizing recent reforms in emigration policy has disappointed many in the Soviet Jewry movement here.

But at least one major Soviet Jewry advocacy group has expressed relief.

“It is better to have no law than a faulty law,” Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said Tuesday. She said the proposed law is “clearly much more restrictive than the current law.”

But Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said he was concerned that the Supreme Soviet had not been able to pass the legislation two years after it adopted the first draft. There are forces that clearly want to derail the law, Wenick said.

The bill actually passed Monday in one of the houses in the Supreme Soviet, the Council of the Union. It received a majority in the second house, the Council of Nationalities, but it was 12 short of the number needed for adoption.

The bill has now been referred back to a committee for further discussion, which could mean another vote by the end of the week or a delay of as long as several months.

The State Department said Tuesday that the United States would “continue to urge the Soviets to enact this law and its accompanying implementing resolution, and we hope that the Supreme Soviet will do so in the very near future.”

Once the law is adopted, the Supreme Soviet must also approve implementing legislation. The law is not expected to go into effect until July 1992.

NO ‘TWISTING OF ARMS’ BY GORBACHEV

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has pressed for the law for two years, because until it is adopted, the Soviet Union cannot get the U.S. credits and trade benefits it needs to aid its beleaguered economy.

But Wenick said Tuesday that Gorbachev does not appear to have done any “twisting of arms” of legislators to adopt the legislation.

Soviet hard-liners have blocked passage of the emigration bill because of fears that it will cost too much to implement and lead to a “brain drain” of talent from the Soviet Union.

The bill not only makes it easier to emigrate but also to travel abroad.

But Cohen of the Union of Councils said that in reading the legislation and in discussions with members of the democratic forces in the Soviet legislature during a recent visit to Moscow, she found that the Soviets still want to use emigration as a political lever.

The Union of Councils had earlier warned that the proposed law continues to place restrictions on emigration, particularly for those who are considered to possess state secrets. Persons who have served in the military sometimes are denied emigration visas for this reason, regardless of whether they had dealt with classified material.

Cohen expressed particular concern about new emigration restrictions on young men of military age. She said a new policy has been announced in Kirov, a district of Moscow, requiring men between the ages of 16 and 27 to have their emigration applications signed and stamped by the local district office of the military before they are accepted.

The experience of the last 20 years is that the Soviets have tried “trial balloons” in one area before putting a new restriction in place, Cohen said. The new regulation would give the OVIR visa bureau “a signal that it would be OK” to refuse potential applicants without any review, Cohen said.

The proposed law is supposed to prevent arbitrary refusals of applications to emigrate and to institutionalize reforms already in place.

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