There are now grave doubts about whether the KGB will permit the Jewish cultural seminar to open in Moscow next Tuesday. Five of its 13 organisers were warned by the Deputy Minister of Culture last week that the symposium was a “provocation contrary to the interests of Soviet Jewry and to Marxist-Leninist ideology”.
In addition, a number of foreign participants have had their visas revoked. They include several prominent people from Britain, many of whom are active in the Soviet Jewry campaign. Papers connected with the seminar were confiscated three weeks ago during a series of raids and searches of activists’ homes.
The attempt to kill the seminar is not a sudden repressive wave on the part of the KGB, but the climax of an intensive campaign in which Jewish activists associated with cultural activities have been victimised. In Riga. Arkady Tsinober and veteran refusenik Valery Kaminsky were accompanied by KGB men on a train journey to Moscow, which a third Jew was stopped at the airport and searched. Earlier, they and 15 other Riga Jews had been interrogated about the work of the Riga cultural seminar.
In Leningrad, Jews have been questioned about the activities of the newly-formed Shalom Club, which caters for the cultural needs of refuseniks waiting to go to Israel. The club met for the first time on Rosh Hashana and shortly afterwards its co-chairman, Vladimir Sverdlin, was hauled off to KGB headquarters and urged to give up his activities. The other co-chairman. 29-year-old radio engineer Mikhail Kazanevich, was threatened that he would be charged with parasitism if he did not find a job within a month.
A third member of the club’s board, Mikhail Dubov, was refused permission to leave for Israel. No reason was given.
Such repressions hardly appear justified in view of the club’s innocuous programme. Its second meeting was a conventional Oneg Shabbat which included prayers, songs and a talk by Dubov on the history of ancient Israel.
What probably worried the KGB was not so much the lack of “subversion” within the programme as the attraction it had for many assimilated Leningrad Jews. Thirty of the 39 present that Friday evening had not even applied to emigrate.
In Kishinev, Pyotr Roitberg, a leader of the cultural seminar programme in the city, was told that a file had been opened on his activities. His apartment was searched and nine Jewish books were confiscated.
Grigory Levitt, from Tiraspol, has been prevented on at least three occasions from leaving the town to take part in the Kishinev seminar. Similar actions by the authorities disrupted seminars on Jewish art and the study of the Torah.
Investigations are still continuing into the publication of the educational journal, “Jews in the USSR”. Earlier this month, Vladimir Lazaris was interrogated by the KGB about his role in the magazine.
The KGB officer in charge of the investigation was the one concerned also with the case of Boris Chernobilsky and Iosif As, who were imprisoned for taking part in a demonstration and who were released after pressure from the west. Moscow activists are now concerned for the safety of Lazaris and his contacts in different Soviet cities..
Intimidation and threats can be expected to increase as the seminar approaches. In 1974, the KGB
temporarily detained the organisers of a scientific symposium and foreign delegates were not visas by Soviet consulates abroad.
Jewish Observer 17 December 1976