Why was there a need to set up a committee to monitor the Helsinki agreement?
The implementation of the Helsinki agreement – and in particular its human rights clauses – is essential for the development of the USSR. It would create a healthier and stronger society.
How the committee originate?
It was founded on May 12, 1976. There were ten members, two of whom were Jewish activists, Vitaly Rubin and Anatoly Shcharansky. Three weeks later, Rubin was given permission to leave for Israel and his place on the committee was taken by Vladimir Slepak.
In recent years, there has been a combination of effort between the human rights movement and the Jewish movement. It became a necessity. Not only was there a great desire among Jews to emigrate, but a great demand from Russians, an elementary right of each to choose his own place of residence
Although there was sympathy for human rights activists, the Jewish movement had always re-separate and never formally worked together with the dissident movement. Why did they come together openly on this committee?
Yes, this was a totally unique occasion when a common platform was found of people of completely different views and opinions could come together. They were all interested in the implementation of the human rights clauses of the Helsinki agreement. The Jewish activists particularly wanted the Soviet Government to observe the sections of the agreement which dealt with the reunification of families and the right to emigrate.
In an administrative sense, it may have seemed that this joint effort was taking place at that moment in time. In practice, it had been going on for some time. The dissidents supported the ‘Jewish movement and the Jews sympathised with the human rights movement. The founding of the Helsinki group was thus a natural consequence of what had been going on previously.
The dissidents, however, have tried to effect an internal change —within the country. The Jews posed a lesser threat, in the sense that they wished to get out. Both were interested in Helsinki but perhaps for different reasons. Don’t you think that this open combination of efforts may have put the Jewish movement in greater danger?
The Jewish movement fights for one of these rights while the dissident movement struggles for several. It would be to the advantage of the Jewish movement if all these elementary human rights were implemented.
The Jews would profit from a liberalisation of the regime. They would not have to struggle anymore and would be able to leave for Israel without any trouble. If the Jewish activists fight only for the right to leave, they cannot help but support the dissidents who also fight for this right plus other rights.
In the 1960s, many Jews participated in the dissident movement. Yet after the Six day war, many saw that there was very little hope for such liberalisation in the Soviet Union. Isn’t this one of the reasons why the Jewish movement came into existence?
Yes, many Jews understood this would be a very long process and that this wouldn’t be possible in a lifetime understood that liberalisation is essential for those who remain and even for those who leave.
Anti-Semitism and discrimination against Jews are still a great problem in Russia. For those Jews who remain, life has become more difficult and they therefore feel a more obvious sympathy for the aims of the dissident movement. Those who have left Russia for Israel cannot feel indifferent to liberalisation in Russia. It would be beneficial for them too. It would help those who remain in Russia to leave. If Russian becomes a non-totalitarian country, it would aid Israel’s progress and have a great impact and influence on the security of the entire world.
Doesn’t the Jewish national movement therefore, syphon off a lot of the energies of the dissidents? Many of these people who could fight for human rights from the dissident point of view are now leaving and going to Israel. Don’t the dissidents, while supporting the Jewish national movement, at the same time resent it?
No, of course not. Each person fights what is closest to his heart. No one can demand of him that he fights for something else if he fights for one specific thing. He can be given all the support he requires, but no one can place demands on him.
What were Shcharansky’s responsibilities on the Helsinki Committee?
Although he represented the Jewish movement, he did not deal with just that problem. This applied to all of us. None of us dealt with specifically one issue, just as each of us was interested in the Jewish problem. We gave him our support and he gave us his.
Shcharansky could have been arrested at any time during the last three years, yet only now he has been detained. Why?
I strongly believe that he was arrested for his active participation in the Helsinki group. The repression of the authorities was directed at the Helsinki Group. Seven members have been arrested, three in Moscow, two in Georgia and two in the Ukraine.
This has nothing to do with President Carter’s letter to Sakharov either. Two members were in fact arrested before the letter. We do not know how the repression would have developed if there had been no statement by Carter. Probably it would have been much greater.
Such methods were a unique method of the Soviet Government to prepare themselves for the Belgrade Summit. They do not want violations of the Helsinki agreement to reach the West.
Your main interest has been in Yuri Orlov, chairman of the Helsinki Committee who was arrested in your flat in Moscow. What is happening with his case?
Orlov was a friend of the Jewish scientists and participated in many of their seminars. His wife has asked John MacDonald, an English lawyer who has been interested in human rights for many years, to advise her on this case.
If Orlov defends himself, MacDonald hopes to be present in the courtroom to advise his client. He has applied to go to the Soviet Union on May 16 to have further discussions with Mrs Orlov. (Since the interview, the Russians have refused MacDonald an entry visa to the USSR.)
Jewish Observer 12 May 1977