The scene at Moscow’s Sheremyetevo Airport on Dec. 29 was highly unusual: Soviet officials warmly greeted 50 former emigrants on their return from New York. And they encouraged the disillusioned Soviet returnees—many of them Jews—to speak openly about their feelings of horror about the problems of drugs and crime in the United States.
But although the unhappy 50 received a highly publicized welcome home, thousands of Soviets wanting to emigrate continued their struggle to leave. Indeed, late last week Mikhail Fuxe-Rabinovich, a 49-year-old mathematician who has been trying for eight years to get permission to take his wife and son to Israel, completed the 35-day hunger strike he had undertaken to draw attention to his case.
Said Fuxe-Rabinovich about the returning exemigrants: “Life in the West can be hard. Maybe they didn’t understand that when they left.”
Fuxe-Rabinovich is one of an estimated 50,000 refuseniks—Soviets who have been refused exit visas—within the Soviet Union. Despite a recent string of high-profile departures, including those of geneticist David Goldfarb, dissident Yuri Orlov and Inessa Flerova, who went to Israel to give her brother a bone-marrow donation, most Soviets are finding it even more difficult to leave the country. Last week authorities imposed strict new exit regulations that may further restrict Jewish emigration. It peaked at 51,330 in 1979 and declined to almost a trickle of 943 people last year. “They open and close the doors depending on their relations with the West,” said Martin Penn, director of the Canadian Committee for Soviet Jewry, a section of the Montreal-based Canadian Jewish Congress. “At the end of 1979 they invaded Afghanistan and relations cooled considerably.”
Like many of the refuseniks among the two million Soviet Jews, Fuxe-Rabinovich has all but lost hope for a
new life in Israel. As of Jan. 1 those seeking exit visas must produce an invitation to live abroad from an immediate family member—husband, wife, father, mother, brother or sister. In
the past, Soviets could apply to be reunited with more distant relatives, including cousins or grandparents. FuxeRabinovich has only an uncle living outside the Soviet Union. Having com-
pleted the hunger strike, he is uncertain what action to take next. “I don’t want to die,” he said. “But I don’t think things will change.”
There has been widespread confusion about the possible effects of the new emigration guidelines. Anatoly Shcharansky, the Soviet dissident freed last February in an East-West exchange, claims that the new regulations will make emigration more difficult. But other critics see the changes as both an attempt to streamline the emigration process and an effort by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to defuse criticism of his human rights policies by indicating that Soviets will be permitted to leave. Some Western diplomats have suggested that the new rules could herald a more flexible position on emigration by stating a policy that would apply to any applicant.
Until recently it was almost as difficult for emigrants to return to the Soviet Union as it was to get out in the first place. Since last October, when the Soviet Union announced a new open-door policy for those seeking to return, about 1,000 have applied at the Soviet Embassy in Washington. The first group to return two weeks ago included people who wept openly as they stepped off the Aeroflot flight from New York. After nine years away, Rebecca Katsap declared, “This is my motherland.”
But the list of those who want to leave grows by the day. On Jan. 8 Moscow mathematician Alexander Ioffe began a hunger strike to push for exit visas for his 23-year-old son, Dmitry, and his wife and young daughter. And Serafim Yevsyukov, 53, who lost his job as an Aeroflot navigator when he applied for a visa in 1978, remained in a Moscow mental hospital despite the protest of physicist Andrei Sakharov, who said that the man was “completely sane.” Looking tired and emaciated after his fast, Fuxe-Rabinovich held out little hope for the refuseniks. “My forecast is that during the next months they will choose a small group of refuseniks under the new rules and release them,” he said. “Then they will say the rest don’t exist.”
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