On the Eve of the Reagan-gorbachev Summit: Soviet Refuseniks Feel Their Fate is Hanging in the Balan
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On the Eve of the Reagan-gorbachev Summit: Soviet Refuseniks Feel Their Fate is Hanging in the Balan

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With the Reagan-Gorbachev meeting approaching against the background of a virtual halt in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, the prevailing feeling among long-time refuseniks is that their fate is hanging in the balance more than ever before.

Accordingly, some who have recently been in Moscow conveyed to participants at this week’s meeting of the World Conference on Soviet Jewry a profound sense of urgency, heightened at once by near-despair and a faint glimmer of hope.

“The feeling of my friends in the Soviet Union is that if nothing is done soon, the Jewish national movement may be crushed in the near future, ” Anatoly Khazanov, who was permitted to emigrate two months ago after a five-year wait, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview.


Meanwhile, Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, arrived in Moscow this week, a participant at the World Conference meeting told the JTA. Bronfman, who was invited by the Soviet government early this year, had planned a visit last spring, but called it off because of the death of Konstantin Chernenko.

According to British historian Martin Gilbert, who recently visited the Soviet Union and attended the World Conference meeting that ended Tuesday, Bronfman went to Moscow last Sunday for a two-day visit. No confirmation was obtainable from the World Jewish Congress.

Bronfman’s visit would come at a time when the movement for Soviet Jewry is urgently appealing to the Reagan Administration to press the question of Jewish emigration from Russia at President Reagan’s upcoming meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Delegates to the World Conference meeting conferred with Reagan on Monday.

Khazanov was one of the signatories of a letter to Bronfman last spring outlining the concerns of refuseniks. In Washington for the World Conference meeting, he said in his interview with the JTA that he had no idea “in what capacity” Bronfman went to Moscow.


At the same time, many of those still waiting to emigrate have taken the step of formulating terms for an exit visa agreement that they would like to see the Administration present to the Soviet Union. The suggested terms were submitted to Gilbert, a professor at Oxford who has been active in the campaign for Soviet Jewish emigration, when he visited the Soviet Union last month.

“There the feeling is that the Administration here must now be programming into its negotiations with Gorbachev and beyond … a comprehensive exit visa agreement for Soviet Jewry, whereby everybody in refusal will come out according to some agreed upon timetable, whereby everybody who is refused on security grounds will come out according to some internationally recognized timetable,” Gilbert told the JTA.

During his two-week visit in Moscow and Leningrad, Gilbert held at least 20 separate meetings with over 50 refuseniks, including Galina Zelich-enok, wife of Prisoner of Conscience Roald Zelichenok, and Ina Begun, whose husband losef is also imprisoned. Among the specific terms strongly urged by the refuseniks, Gilbert said, was the immediate granting of exit visas to those in refusal for 10 years or more, with those waiting five to 10 years being allowed to leave by the end of 1987.

After that, emigration would be managed according to a controlled rate of exit visas for new applicants, up to an agreed-upon annual limit. One group of refuseniks suggested that the West should propose 50,000 as an annual maximum.

A timetable, possibly based on the length of time already served in prison, was suggested for the POC’s as was the immediate granting of exit visas to former POC’s who are still waiting to emigrate.

The refuseniks proposal also suggested that a maximum time period be set for the granting of visas to someone who has held a position regarded as security-related. Gilbert presented the proposed terms to the World Conference meeting.


Only 29 Soviet Jews — the lowest number in years — were permitted to emigrate to Israel last month. In June there were four arrests of Jewish activists — the most in a single month since the harass-ment of Jewish leaders in the Soviet Union was stepped up last year.

Reflecting on reasons why the Soviets under Gorbachev have disappointed so many who had reluctantly hoped for an improvement in the situation of Soviet Jewry, Khazanov, a social anthropologist who will begin lecturing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem this fall, had no pat answers.

“I am not a professional politician. I became a refusenik against my will and I prefer not to be involved in all kinds of political discussions,” Khazanov said. “The one thing I know for certain is that if no drastic urgent measures are undertaken on behalf of Soviet Jewry — if the Soviets in one way or another will not be persuaded that they should change their attitude toward the Soviet Jews, the refuseniks — then very sad things might be happening, not only to certain per-sons, but to the movement in general.”

Saying he had little grounds for optimism, Khazanov was hardly wide-eyed over some recent gestures by Moscow toward Israel and Soviet Jewry. These gestures have included a meeting between the Soviet and Israeli Ambassadors in Paris last summer that was subsequently leaked to the Israeli press, and the invitation to Bronfman earlier this year.


The unreliability of single gestures as an indicator of where Soviet policy is going was highlighted by Gilbert’s visit to the Soviet Union last month. The official biographer of Winston Churchill, Gilbert, who has also written on the plight of Soviet Jews, was invited there for a conference by the Soviet Academy of Sciences –the same institution that revoked Khazanov’s membership shortly after he applied to emigrate to Israel.

The invitation was extended to deliver a paper on the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory in World War II. However, Gilbert had only recently been cited by a Soviet prosecutor as a “Zionist conspirator” during the trial of Hebrew teacher Zelichenok in early August. Arrested on charges of defaming the state, Zelichenok was sentenced to three years in a labor camps. Nevertheless, Gilbert said he was “completely free” to meet with refuseniks.

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