Why the activists finally lost patience

The dramatic events of the past two weeks in Moscow, in which leading Jewish activists have been severely beaten and arrested because of their open demands for exit visas, have brought this issue’ to a head just at a time when the Kremlin would most have liked things to remain dormant—on the eve of the American presidential elections.

Dr Vitali Rubin, a former leading Moscow activist now visiting London from Israel, where he lives, believes that the current events represent “a new and powerful development within the Jewish movement in their struggle for their rights. Jewish communities must respond and support them in their fight”.

The drama began on Monday of last week, when twelve Jews tried to deliver an open letter addressed to the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, whose annual meeting began this week. They remained in the building until it closed, whereupon they were bundled into a bus and driven to the; outskirts of Moscow. The same thing’ occurred the following day but this’ time, adopting a more determined approach, the activists were beaten up when they refused to get out of the bus.

AS THE DRAMA unfolded, more and more activists joined the protests and demanded an interview with Interior Minister Nikolai Shchelokov. By Thursday of last week, when the meeting was due to be held, 52 refuseniks from Leningrad and Odessa, as well as Moscow, had assembled. But the Minister did not show up, sending instead Colonels Obidin and Zolukhin, who are responsible for emigration matters.

All 52, who included Professor Alexander Lerner and Ida Nudel—insisted on seeing the Minister as a group. The colonels retorted that the Minister would only see them one by one. Eventually, a delegation of three — Vladimir Slepak, Anatoly Shcharansky and Boris Chernobilsky — were ushered into the Minister’s office.

The three raised the problem of the continued refusals of exit visas. Shchelokov promised to review the cases but would not put this in writing. On the question of the previous days’ violence, the Minister refused to discuss the issue. After heated exchanges, the exasperated activists walked out of the meeting, which had lasted 45 minutes.

Outside the Ministry building, the 52 lined up and pinned yellow Stars of David to their clothing. They then marched courageously and defiantly through the streets of Moscow to the Supreme Soviet building, where they continued their sit-in. An hour before the building closed, they were again taken in buses to the outskirts of the city. By Friday morning, all except four had – returned home. Arkady Polishchuk, Victor Yelistratov and Mikhail Kremen were sentenced to 15 days for petty hooliganism. The arrests and sentences continued this week.

Jewish Observer 29 October 1976

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