WASHINGTON (Apr. 2)
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel said Thursday that he is “encouraged” by recent reports that the Soviet government appears to be easing their restrictions against Jews, but remains “profoundly concerned” about their “insensitivity” to individual cases of refuseniks.
“The issue is not whether (the Soviet Union) is more sensitive to Jewish issues or fears; the primary concern is that Jews should be allowed to leave,” Wiesel told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
He noted that although reports have stated that as many as 11,000 Jews will be allowed to emigrate, this is still much less than the some 51,000 who were allowed to leave in 1979.
Wiesel made his comments during a visit to Alexander Slepak, the son of Soviet refusenik Vladimir and Maria Slepak who has been fasting since last Friday at the U.S. Capitol to dramatize the plight of his parents. Wiesel was on his way to receive the Profiles in Courage Award from-the local John F. Kennedy Lodge of B’nai B’rith at the Adas Israel Congregation here.
“Slepak is a test case. If we want to believe (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev’s sincerity, and we want to believe it, he must show his good will to Slepak, one of the leaders of the movement,” Wiesel said.
Wiesel refused to comment on reports that Soviet Jews will go to Israel from Rumania, instead of going to Vienna where they would have the option of going to the United States. “I want to study the issue,” he said.
Slepak, a resident of Israel who is a medical school student in Philadelphia, said he believes Soviet Jews should be allowed to choose between the U.S. and Israel. Appearing alert as he remained on his vigil, Slepak said he speaks regularly to his father who is also fasting. He said the “Soviet government didn’t make any steps towards hinting at his possible release.”
Vladimir Slepak, one of the founders of the Helsinki Watch Group, first applied for emigration with his wife in 1971, but was refused on the grounds that he had access to state secrets. An electronics engineer, he is former chief of the Moscow Television Research Institute.
The Slepaks were exiled to Siberia for five years in 1978 after they hung a sign on their balcony demanding that they be allowed to emigrate. Alexander Slepak was permitted to go to Israel ten years ago. Slepak said most of the recent Soviet concessions towards Jews have been in “cultural” areas such as releasing Hebrew teachers from prison and not in emigration.