The Hunger Strike of Azbel, Rubin and Galatsky

LAST week saw two very similar human rights protests in the USSR, but with completely opposite aims.

Well-known dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov and Vladimir Maximov stated that Solzhenitsyn should not have been expelled from the Soviet Union and insisted on his right to remain. Simultaneously. Jewish members of the Moscow intelligentsia began an indefinite hunger strike to protest against their enforced detention in the USSR and the continual refusal the authorities to give them exit permits for Israel. The three participants are physical chemistry Professor David Azbel, sinologist Vitaly Rubin and artist Vladimir Galataky. Azbel, who has been waging a struggle to emigrate for the past two years, has a particularly tragic history. Born into a family descended from a long line of rabbis, he found himself orphaned at the age of nine due to the ravages of civil war. He witnessed the hanging of his mother by the White Russians and saw his grandfather invalided after being thrown off a moving train by anti-Semites. He became a street-urchin, wandering town to town until he was finally put in school. However, Azbel was a bright pupil and made his way to university.

In 1935 he was arrested and spent the next 16 years in one of “Uncle Joe’s Hotels” — a Stalinist labour camp. After being released in 1951 he settled In the Ukraine and worked as an engineer, only to be dismissed at the beginning of 1953 at the time of the Doctors’ Plot.

1956 he was allowed to return to Moscow and soon completed the post-graduate course that he had started 21 years earlier, and in 1960 received his doctorate in technical sciences. The following year he became a professor and in 1963 was appointed head of an institute of chemical spirits and organic products. He had published over 60 scientific works.

In May 1972, Azbel applied to go to Israel and was arrested with many other Soviet Jews outside the Central Telegraphic Office in Moscow and sentenced to 15 days in prison on a charge of petty hooliganism. He is married, with an 18-year-old son, Zeev.

Vitaly Rubin has a similarly unhappy past. In 1931 his brother Isaac was convicted in the famous Menshevik Trial. His father was thrown out of his post as a philosopher and worked as a translator, translating, incidentally, the only Russian version of Maimonides’ “Guide to the Perplexed.”

At the beginning of the war, when he still was a student, Rubin volunteered for the front. He was captured by the Germans, but escaped after three days. Shortly afterwards he was sent to a special camp, at a coal mine in the Moscow region as punishment for being captured. After 18 months in the coal mine, be Contracted tuberculosis. At this point he was told that he had been ‘cleared of suspicion and was not spy’. But, for the next four years, 1944-48, he was bed-ridden.

Rubin graduated from the Moscow State University in 1951, but was not permitted to do post-graduate work because of his part in the war. In February 1972, he was forced to leave his post at the Moscow Institute for Oriental Studies because he had applied to emigrate to Israel. His application was refused in July 1972 because he was an “important specialist”.

Rubin has specialiised in the confrontation between the humanist aspects of the Confucian tradition and the ideological policy of the state. He has written more than 60 articles and his book “Ideology and Culture in Ancient China” was published in 1970.

Vladimir Galatsky, by far the youngest of the group, has been waiting only one year for his visa. In 1958 he associated himself with the left grouping of artists which in 1962 was severely criticised Nikita Khrushchev for its non-conformist “left art” at an exhibition in Moscow. Since then Galatsky been refused permission to participate in an exhibition of paintings in the USSR.

In 1970 the Artists’ Union officially refused to consider Galatsky’s work and accused him of “formalism”. Since 1972 he has not able to get any work at the state publishing houses. He applied to emigrate in March 1972. Three months later he was refused without any specific reason being given. Azbel, Rubin and Galatsky issued a statement on Thursday at the ginning of their hunger strike. They said:

We consider ourselves to be prisoners in our present situation even though we live in Moscow with our families, in our own flats. It is possible to deprive a man of freedom without locking him up in an ordinary prison. It is possible refuse him the right, to decide own fate as well as the right to decide in which country he wants to live. This, too, is a deprivation of freedom. This is imprisonment without investigation or trial for an unlimited period.

The hunger strike is taking place in David Azbel’s apartment. His telephone line has been blocked since the hunger strike began, while those of Rubin and Galatsky have been disconnected. As one London telephone operator put It, “the KGB certainly doesn’t want anyone to speak to them.

Jerusalem Post 22 February 1974


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