Despite Shcharansky's release, Moscow stays tough on dissidents
Jewish dissident Anatoly Shcharansky's arrival in West Berlin yesterday marked the release from the Soviet Union of one of its key dissidents. But there are few signs that Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev intends to pursue a more relaxed policy toward dissidents. Western diplomats in Moscow point to an interview that Mr. Gorbachev gave to the French Communist Party newspaper L'Humanit'e last week as a reliable guide to future Kremlin policies in this sensitive area. In the interview, Gorbachev denied that there were political prisoners in the Soviet Union, said that no one was put on trial for his convictions, and argued that Western charges of Soviet discrimation against Jews were ``psychological warfare.'' Most pointedly, he said that any state needed to protect itself against people who tried to subvert it, who called for its destruction, or who spied for foreign intelligence services.
Diplomats say the timing of these remarks, just days before Mr. Shcharansky's release, could have been intended as a coded reminder that the Soviets view the Jewish activist as nothing better than an American spy. They said they detected few signals that a more open policy toward nonconformist political views was part of Gorbachev's broader drive for more frankness in public life and more debate and imagination among officials.
``The interview . . . was a firm statement that dissenters, as we understand the term in the West, have no place in Gorbachev's scheme of things,'' one diplomat said.
But Shcharansky's release was also the second recent sign of a certain sensitivity on the part of the new Soviet leadership to its human rights image abroad. In December Yelena Bonner, wife of the internally exiled dissident and physicist Andrei Sakharov, was permitted to go to Italy and the United States for medical treatment.
The news that Bonner would be free to travel abroad was leaked to the West just before President Reagan's summit with Gorbachev last November.
The Kremlin is unlikely to lose face in the Shcharansky affair since it was able to include him in a general East-West spy swap, thus maintaining its official version that he was a US spy -- a charge the US has denied.
Although Israeli officials and some Jewish ``refuseniks'' -- those denied exit visas -- in Moscow have expressed hopes that Shcharansky's release will signal an easing of emigration to Israel, there has been no indication from the Kremlin that such hopes are well-founded. The official news agency, Tass, explicitly ruled out a deal that might involve reestablishing Soviet-Israeli diplomatic ties in return for increased Jewish emigration.
Gorbachev told L'Humanit'e that Soviet Jews were free, had equal rights to those of other Soviets, and played an active role in public affairs. One difficulty for the Kremlin has been that a relaxation directed specifically at Jewish emigration carries the risk of sparking ambitions to leave among other Soviet nationalities.
There was no immediate comment from the official Soviet media on Shcharansky's release. His mother, Ida Milgrom, was kept informed by Western correspondents here. When the news finally came through, tears filled her eyes and she exclaimed: ``I believed he would be free, but I did not believe I would live to see him.''