As President Nixon left the Soviet Union last week, many of the Jews arrested for the duration of his visit released from prison. They had held at Spulthovka, some 93 miles south of Moscow, far from Nixon’s itinerary. Among those released in the initial batch were Vladimir Slepak and the organisers of the abortive international scientific seminar, including Professor Alexander Voronel, Professor Mark Azbel and Dr. Alexander Lunts. They announced that they were now planning to hold the seminar in the autumn. Equally defiantly, Professor Alexander Lerner and his wife have begun a hunger strike.
Slepak told foreign correspondents before his arrest three weeks ago, he had been told that he could remain free if he promised not to take part in any demonstrations, write slanderous” letters or issue any statements during Nixon’s visit. He refused and was imprisoned. On release, he was driven back to the capital in a specially provided car. Slepak has been struggling to emigrate to Israel for more than five years.
The KGB had gone to great lengths provide a pretext for the disruption of the seminar whose foreign invitees included 15 Nobel Prize winners.
Several months ago, they warned Voronel that if he continued to involve himself in the seminar, he be prosecuted on a charge of national hatred. This was illogical, however, as all the participants in the seminar were judged not on their nationality, but on their professional standing. One non-Jewish delegate, Professor Yuri Orlov, a corresponding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, confirmed that he had wanted to attend the seminar solely because he was a scientist.
The KGB warned Voronel that he was transgressing a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of December 25, 1972. Voronel’s wife, Nina, a poetess, was warned that she would be prosecuted if she allowed anyone into her flat who had come to “carry out an anti- Soviet action”. When she asked which law forbade a citizen from opening the door when the bell rang, the KGB replied: “Open it, you may find there a murderer or a robber. We are not responsible for anything.” Such threats were evidently intended to scare off the few Jews who remained at large during Nixon’s visit.
Meanwhile, Jews in other cities protested against KGB repression during the American President’s visit. In Vinnitsa, Mikhail Mager, a close friend of Jewish prisoner Isaak Shkolnik, staged a hunger strike in his home.
Three Jews from Kiev also went on hunger strike. In Leningrad, all the Jews refused permission to emigrate were called in to the KGB on the eve of Nixon’s visit. They were ordered not to leave the city and told not to write any open letters on pain of prosecution. One man, Mikhail Kazakhevich, staged a three-day hunger strike.
In Vilnius 26 Jews were called to the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior and told that on instructions “from above,” they could not leave the city.
The KGB’s most blatant action was when they censored the American television reports beamed by satellite from Moscow on the international seminar. In so doing, they dramatised the affair in the living-rooms of millions of Americans.
However, despite the police actions, some well-known Moscow activists have received permission to leave for Israel. They are Anatoly Novikov, Grigory Shvakbein, Mark Novodvorsky and Vladimir Glatsky.
Jewish Observer 12 July 1974