MOSCOW (Oct. 2)
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev promised an American Jewish leader Wednesday that he would publicly condemn anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
Gorbachev, who has been accused in some Jewish circles of deliberately sidestepping the issue, spoke frankly and at length about it to Shoshana Cardin, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, during a meeting Wednesday afternoon in his Kremlin office.
The meeting, requested by the National Conference, was believed to be the first ever between a Soviet chief of state and the head of a Soviet Jewry advocacy organization.
Gorbachev said Soviet anti-Semitism is the work of extremists, but he realized that “certain members of the intelligencia” are fanning the flames, Cardin reported.
“But personally, I don’t think it represents a disease that is deeply rooted in our society,” she quoted him as saying.
Although Gorbachev said “it would be a mistake to single out one problem when we have so many here,” the problem of anti-Semitism was the main issue of their 55-minute conversation, at which Cardin was accompanied by Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference.
Another issue raised was the plight of long-term refuseniks, those denied permission to emigrate for more than five years, often because of their alleged access to state secrets.
Cardin, who also discussed the matter at length Monday with the new chief of the KGB, Vadim Bakatin, presented Gorbachev with the White House’s list of 23 long-term refuseniks.
‘WE NEED TO KEEP OUR COOL’
Gorbachev accepted the list from her, saying, “We must look into this again. The secrecy must be looked into anew.”
But he added, “Maybe we do have certain things that are state secrets.”
Gorbachev provided an overview of the present situation in the Soviet Union and seemed optimistic about the future, Cardin reported.
She quoted the Soviet leader as saying, “Things here change daily. We need to keep our cool. I understand this is not an empty question for you,” meaning American and Soviet Jews.
“You want to know what you are dealing with,” Gorbachev said. He suggested that American Jewish investors might be encouraged to stimulate business in his country and “not wait for fair weather.”
But Gorbachev “kept coming back to” the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, Cardin said. She said the Soviet leader brought up the subject on his own three times during their talk.
Cardin said when she handed him a sheaf of anti-Semitic journals, he seemed familiar with them, and when she expressed hope he would have an opportunity to denounce all forms of anti-Semitic chauvinism, he nodded agreement.
When she urged him a second time to take the lead in categorically denouncing all forms of anti-Semitism, Gorbachev replied through his interpreter that he intended to do so.
He said he was sending Alexander Yakovlev, one of his closest advisers, to represent him at the commemoration Saturday of the 50th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre in Kiev.
Gorbachev told Cardin that its commemoration was more for the Soviet people than for tens of thousands of Jewish victims, because it is important that they know the truth about the treatment of Jews.
CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF THE WAR
Cardin said the Soviet leader recalled that as a child during the war, in his hometown of Stavropol, he witnessed the murder of Jews. “These were terrible times, and this was a terrible tragedy,” she quoted him as saying.
He ended the meeting by telling his visitors he considered their talk to be a continuation of a process. “I will do what I can on the issues you have raised,” Gorbachev promised.
Cardin is a member of the U.S. delegation attending the human rights conference being held here under the auspices of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, at which the National Conference has status as a non-governmental organization.
Diplomatic sources at the conference reported last weekend that the plight of long-term Jewish refuseniks would soon be resolved by a commission the Soviets have agreed to establish.
Cardin said she had a “candid and open discussion” with KGB Chairman Bakatin about, among other things, Jewish “secrecy refuseniks” of more than five years’ duration.
The meeting, at Bakatin’s office, was initiated by the KGB, a significant gesture inasmuch as the once-dreaded Soviet secret police and spy agency was notorious for blocking the emigration of Jews alleged to possess knowledge of state secrets.
Some 200 Soviet Jewish families are still denied emigration rights on those grounds, though the number refused permission for more than five years is considerably smaller.
National Conference sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that one of the cases Cardin raised with Bakatin was that of Dmitri Berman, a Jew from the Ukraine accused of murdering a Moldavian soldier.
Berman, whose case was reopened in Moscow after being dismissed by the Ukrainian prosecutor, has been given quasi-asylum at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow.
‘WORKING RELATIONSHIP’ WITH KGB
Cardin, who was accompanied by Wenick to the meeting with the KGB chief, said they received assurances from Bakatin that the free emigration of Jews would continue.
She described the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, as “positive and relaxed,” and said the National Conference and KGB now “have a working relationship.”
While Bakatin stressed that the character and philosophy of the KGB differs under his leadership from the past, he cautioned that “the power is now in the hands of the republics,” Cardin said.
She said she discussed with Bakatin a list of 10 long-term “secrecy refuseniks” whose cases will be reviewed by a special commission to which the KGB head, among other officials, will appoint a representative.
The commission’s other members will include representatives of OVIR, the Soviet visa office, and members of the refusenik community, Cardin said.
The National Conference leader was among some 2,000 Jews who attended traditional Simchat Torah services Monday night at Moscow’s Choral Synagogue.
The crowd included many teen-agers and young adults in addition to the elderly men who usually make up the Sabbath minyan at the famous synagogue.
During the years when Soviet authorities put strictures on religious observances and were especially hard on Jews, Simchat Torah was the one holiday when Moscow Jews defied officialdom.
Each year, the overflow from services would fill the streets outside the Choral Synagogue with demonstrators for civil rights and free emigration.
This Simchat Torah, women joined men in the sanctuary and listened to the spirited singing of Hebrew songs by the tuxedo-clad JDC-Moscow Synagogue Choir.