SOVIET Jews are facing their worst crisis since the collective trials of 1970. Mathematician Anatoly Shcharansky, seized by the KGB last week, is the first major Moscow activist to be arrested since the new movement came into existence after the Six-Day war.
He is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, accused of “anti-state activities”. This could include Article 64 (treason to the motherland), which has not been used against the Jewish movement since the Leningrad trials.
Shcharansky’s arrest had been expected for months, but the eventual “excuse” was an article in Izvestia published earlier this month, in which a fellow Jew, Lipavsky, accused him and others of spying.
Many activists believed that Shcharansky would be given permission to leave after his appearance last year in the Granada TV documentary, “A Calculated Risk”. But it did not happen.
Along with Vladimir Slepak, Shcharansky has represented the Jewish movement on the Helsinki Agreement watchdog committee. In addition, one of his unpublicised tasks was to act as the committee’s vital contact with western correspondents in Moscow.
Shcharansky’s arrest and the simultaneous release of Dr. Mikhall Shtern after serving less than half of his eight-year sentence, are directed at the scheduled visit of the US Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance to the USSR; at the end of the month. An international symposium on the case of Dr. Shtern, organised by his sons, was due to take place in Amsterdam to coincide with the Vance visit.
The cases of Shcharansky and Shtern are designed to indicate to the Carter Administration a policy of options: oppression or freedom. According to the Kremlin, everything depends on the American approach. This is also indicated by the fact that only one of the seven activists accused of espionage in the lzvestia article, significantly published on the anniversary of the death of Stalin, has been imprisoned, leaving the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of the others.
Moreover, neither Yuri Orlov, Alexander Ginsberg nor Shcharansky, the arrested Helsinki committee activists, have formally been charged, thus leaving a loophole for possible release, if the American attitude is acceptable.
The “get tough’ policy of the KGB is a direct reaction to the decision made by the Jewish movement last autumn to break the stalemate and bring to a head a situation which had rapidly deteriorated since the Soviet Union’s rejection in January 1975 of America’s attempt to link trade with emigration issues.
The activists launched a series of Israel-or-prison protests, timed to coincide with the American presidential election campaign. As a result, the situation of Soviet Jews became an issue in the campaign and Carter sent Vladimir Slepak a telegram of support. Carter’s intervention is also thought to have secured the release of Boris Chernobilsky and Iosif As.
This unprecedented intervention shocked the Kremlin, but it hoped that it was nothing more than a vote-catching gimmick, and that if elected, Carter would continue the Ford- Kissinger policy of turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Eastern Europe.
Thus by the end of 1976, three Soviet Jews found themselves in trouble. In Vilnius, Naum Salansky was being interrogated three times a week, accused of anti-Soviet slander. In Leningrad, Vladimir Sverdlin was accused of possessing a few cartridges. And in January, 23-year-old Amner Zavurov received a three-year sentence on charges of hooliganism, parasitism ant violation of passport regulations. –
The Kremlin’s forecast of the new Administration’s policy was rudely shattered when the new US Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, was personally given news of the Zavurov verdict in a telephone conversation with Slepak, in the presence of nearly 100 senators, congressmen and aides. In retaliation, Soviet television put out an hour-long programme, two days before Carter’s inauguration, depicting Jewish tourists to the USSR as agents of the “international Zionist conspiracy”,
Photographs of people active in the campaign in the west were displayed on the screen, including one of Londoner Michael Sherbourne, which had mysteriously disappeared from Ida Nudel’s apartment. Faked footage was added of a Jew handing-out money to participants in a women’s Soviet Jewry demonstration in London. The programme was followed up by vitriolic commentaries in the Soviet press.
In the weeks that followed, the predominantly anti-Semitic atmosphere which was being whipped up was overlooked in the aftermath of President Carter’s letter of support to Academician Andrei Sakharov. Yet until Shcharansky’s detention, the Jewish movement was largely bypassed as the KGB’s blind rage concentrated on those involved in monitoring violations of the Helsinki Agreement.
Before Shcharansky’s arrest, Moscow activists appealed to Carter not to be deterred from his stand on human rights by present or future repressions. With the onset of the Belgrade review of the Helsinki Agreement later this year, Soviet-Jewish activists are hoping that all their supporters in the west will keep up the pressure.
Jewish Observer 24 March 1977