NEW YORK (Aug. 21)
Moscow citizens in general and Jews in particular were jubilant Wednesday at the news that the so-called “emergency committee” that seized control of the Soviet government on Monday had been pushed out of power.
“I’ve lived in Moscow for 20 years, and I never saw this situation — people kissing each other in the Metro, people crying,” Alexander Schmukler, president of B’nai B’rith in the Soviet Union, said in a telephone interview from Moscow.
“It’s a national celebration of the great victory,” he said.
“The army has left Moscow. There are no tanks, no military trucks, no soldiers. It looks like a holiday.”
The Soviet Jewish community had overwhelmingly backed the pro-democracy forces, led by Russian republic President Boris Yeltsin, that resisted the hard-line coup.
Schmukler said the community had presented a statement in support of Yeltsin to members of the Russian republic’s parliament at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
That was just one hour before military forces began firing on the Russian parliament building, known popularly as “the White House,” initiating violence that left three people dead.
The statement of support, signed by the presidium of the Vaad, the Soviet Union’s confederation of Jewish organizations, was also released to a Munich radio station and broadcast all over Europe.
A few minutes after the statement was broadcast, the Vaad began receiving “tens of calls from different Jewish organizations” outside the Soviet Union endorsing the group’s stance.
The statement condemned the hard-line junta’s “blatant violation of democratic norms,” Schmukler said, and appealed to leaders of other national movements to cooperate in the struggle “against the fascist putsch.”
“We were the first national organization to openly support the Russian government and president during very dangerous times,” he pointed out.
EXCITED BUT ‘NOT FEELING SAFE’
That may become a valuable claim, Schmukler said, since Moscow’s Mayor Gavriil Popov has already prohibited activity by local chapters of two organizations that supported the “emergency committee”: the Association of Veterans and the Liberal Democracy Party.
Popov has also sent a letter to Yeltsin, asking him to prohibit the publication of newspapers — mostly Communist — that supported the coup.
Jews in the Soviet Union feel elated about Gorbachev’s return to power, and while they feel more secure than they did two days ago, “we can never feel secure here,” Schmukler said. “The situation is not stabilized, and we don’t know when it will be.”
“Thousands and thousands” of Soviet Jews who had put off their emigration because of the absorption difficulties their friends and family members are having in Israel will now flock to the Jewish state as quickly as possible.
As Schmukler put it, “Troops in Moscow’s streets are a worse problem than Israel’s absorption.”
While the Israeli Consulate in Moscow has not been crowded since the coup began, Schmukler attributed that to the curfew imposed on Moscow this week and the fact that there was no way to get into the city from other locations.
Lines of Soviet Jews who want to leave will form around the downtown building in the next few days, he promised.
Schmukler confirmed reports that OVIR, the Soviet agency responsible for issuing exit visas, has offices around the country open and working.
Anti-Semitic organizations, such as Pamyat, were not heard from during the three days of hard-line rule, Schmukler said, probably because they “did not have the opportunities or the time” since the takeover began.
Schmukler voiced relief that the “emergency committee” had not organized or provoked anti-Jewish pogroms to try to destabilize their political opposition. It is a card they could have played, he said.
Still, “we are not feeling safe,” he said. “Of course we are excited if Gorbachev comes back and constitutional law starts to work, but we do not know what will happen tomorrow.”