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Lawmakers, Just Returned from Visit to the Ussr, Say Soviet Adherence to Helsinki Accord is Necessar

July 17, 1985
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Six members of Congress, who have just returned from their first visit to the Soviet Union, declared today that increased emigration of Soviet Jews and an end to discrimination against refuseniks and their families would pave the way for success at the upcoming summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Representatives, whose trip was under the auspices of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said at a Capitol Hill press conference that they made this point in a letter sent today to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin here.

“We all feel very strongly that the Soviet willingness to abide by the terms of the Helsinki Agreement of 1975 is necessary to build a foundation for the success of the summit,” Rep. Steve Bartlett (R. Texas) said. “As of today, the Soviets do not abide by the terms of the Helsinki agreement.”

Bartlett said that the refuseniks, with whom the legislators met with in Moscow and Leningrad, all saw the summit as an opportunity to press their case. He said they believe their “only hope” is for pressure from western governments and public opinion.


Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D. Md.) said that while totalitarian regimes are “oppressive, rigid and inflexible,” the transition in the Soviet Union under the new leadership of Gorbachev does present the U.S. with a “target of opportunity to advance the human rights agenda.”

She said this should first be done on the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Helsinki accords meeting in Helsinki which will be the first meeting between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

But she said the U.S. should be “cautious” about its expectations. “Just because you wear Gucci loafers and you have an intellectual wife doesn’t mean there will be a breakthrough,” she said.

Noting that she is a liberal Democrat who has long Fought for human rights and peace, Mikulski said, “I am more pessimistic about change after this trip.” She asked how the Soviets can be trusted to keep an agreement. She noted that after the Soviet Union signed the Helsinki accords, which requires emigration for family reunions, the number of people who want to leave but have been denied visas can be counted, but an arms agreement would be more difficult to monitor.

However, Rep. Jim Moody (D. Wis.) said that most refuseniks and Soviet government officials with whom he talked agreed that an increase in emigration was “directly correlated” to the condition of U.S.-Soviet relations. He said they pointed out that during detente, emigration was high.

The lawmakers, who spent seven days in the USSR, split up into two groups, visiting refuseniks’ homes where they met with groups of nine to ten people, including the wives of imprisoned refuseniks. Rep. Louis Stokes (D. Ohio) and Michael Bilirakis (R. Fla.) said while the lawmakers had long supported the cause of Soviet Jewry, they did not fully understand the problem until their visit.

“Unless you go, unless you see with your own eyes you don’t know anything about it,” Bilirakus said.


Bartlett said the “plight of Soviet refuseniks seems not only not to be improving but is deteriorating.” He said that emigration dropped to 36 in June and during June and the first few days of July four refuseniks were arrested which he was told was an “unprecedented” number.

Mikulski said that when she raised the issue of Ida Nudel with Soviet officials dealing with the U.S. they claimed to not have heard of her. She said the general attitude of Soviet officials with whom they talked was that either there was not an emigration problem or that it was an internal matter.

The lawmakers said they were particularly moved by the plight of the wives of the imprisoned refuseniks. Mikulski also spoke about the children of the refuseniks, the older ones being refused admission to schools of higher education and the younger ones “harassed in the schools with filthy anti-Semitic propaganda.”

She said efforts must not only be made to help increase emigration, but to see that those still in the USSR “are at least allowed to live the way any other Soviet citizen is allowed to live and not endure this persecution.”

The lawmakers were especially annoyed by the KGB surveillance which they said was everywhere and was part of the daily lives of the refuseniks. Rep. Ben Erdreich (D. Ala.) said that when talking to people at the Moscow Synagogue they frequently had to move as people he was told were KGB spies kept approaching.

Bartlett brought back a statement given him by long time refusenik Alexandr Lerner and signed by Lerner and 12 other refusenik intellectuals urging the creation of an international committee for Soviet refusenik intellectuals to press for their right to emigrate and to defend them against the loss of their professional status.


Meanwhile, the House held two hours of debate today in which members outlined the plight of individual Soviet Jews. Last week both the Senate and House passed resolutions urging the USSR to “release immediately Anatoly Shcharansky, Yosif Begun and all other Prisoners of Conscience” and allow them along with other long term refuseniks such as Ida Nudel and Vladimir Slepack to emigrate.

The resolution also urged the Soviet Union to allow those thousands of Jews who wish to join their relatives abroad to leave the Soviet Union this year and to pledge that such cases will be dealt with expeditiously and in a humanitarian way during the next three years.

The resolution was introduced in the House as an amendment to the Foreign Aid bill by Rep. Dante Fascell (D.Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and in the Senate by Majority leader Robert Dole (R. Kas.).

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