MOSCOW (Jul. 3)
Six years after the collapse of communism when Jews around the world stopped chanting, “Let My People Go,” there are still refuseniks in Russia.
According to the Moscow-based Russian-American Bureau on Human Rights, a monitoring group and an affiliate of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, about 60 Russian Jews have been denied permission to emigrate on the grounds that they have had access to state secrets.
Russians have to obtain a permit from local authorities in order to emigrate. During Soviet times, Jews and others were regularly refused permission; in most cases today, these permits are issued almost automatically.
However, permits are still being denied for some who have either been in the military or worked in a “sensitive” industry.
Rudolf Masarsky once worked as an engineer at a nuclear submarine plant in St. Petersburg. Four years ago, he left his job and applied for emigration.
Masarsky’s petition was denied. Recently, the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, a successor to the KGB, extended the denial until 1999.
Indeed, officials told Masarsky it is unlikely he would ever be allowed to leave the country, Masarsky said.
For a number of years, Masarsky had access to classified information.
After he left his job with the submarine plant, this information was made public. However, the FSB insisted the information was improperly declassified.
Masarsky has filed complaints with local and federal courts, but he still has not been allowed to reunite with his family abroad.
A few years ago, Russia established an independent commission to deal with refuseniks. Some experts say, however, that the commission has no power to resolve emigration problems.
“Theoretically, there is this commission on issues of state secrecy, but the FSB still has the final word,” said Yuriy Shmidt, a St. Petersburg lawyer.
Undeniably, life has gotten easier for refuseniks with the fall of communism. Unlike Soviet refuseniks, these would-be emigres can travel abroad — some even enjoy access to electronic mail.
But they still cannot leave permanently.
“We don’t want to say this is a return to the bad old days,” said UCSJ President Yosef Abramowitz, who was here on a recent mission.
“But these four dozen Jewish refusenik families are looking for the West to support them.”
The UCSJ delegation raised some of the 60 cases with Russian officials during its visit to the former Soviet Union this week.
It made progress in at least one case.
Isaak Kaufman, 73, was a prominent military researcher in the small Siberian town of Biysk. Now Kaufman is half-blind and his wife suffers from severe diabetes. The family applied for emigration five years ago and was refused.
The Kaufman case is moving in a positive direction, Abramowitz said.
Another case that the UCSJ group discussed with the Russian authorities is that of Russian ecologist Alexander Nikitin,
Charging him with “treason” for “divulging state secrets,” the FSB held Nikitin, a former navy officer, without trial for 10 months last year.
Nikitin is alleged to have committed espionage while helping a Norwegian ecological group collect information on Russia nuclear security in the Arctic.
Although Nikitin is not technically a refusenik, his status still has implications for the fate of human rights in post-Communist Russia.
“Nikitin isn’t Jewish,” Abramowitz said. “But his case is a litmus test about who is in charge in Russia. Is it the remnants of the KGB, or is it the democrats?”