WASHINGTON — The recent Soviet releases of a few prominent political prisoners are empty gestures and the West should not be deceived by them, freed dissidents Anatoly Shcharansky and Yuri Orlov said Friday.
While the Soviets make these "one, two or three good gestures," they are making it still tougher for almost 400,000 Jews to leave the country, Shcharansky said.
"It's the mentality of the West, the desire to see the stage much better than it is, in fact the desire of the West to be deceived," he said.
Orlov added, "Whatever little progress (in human rights) has been made so far has been made on the bones of Soviet dissidents."
Shcharansky and Orlov, both released in the last year, appeared at a meeting called a "Commission of Inquiry," sponsored by the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. The meeting took the form of a hearing that included questioning from Sens. William L. Armstrong (R-Colo.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa.) The council, a coalition of 38 groups, is trying to put pressure on the Soviets to allow more Jews to emigrate.
Fewer than 900 Soviet Jews were allowed to leave the country in 1986, compared to a peak of 51,320 in 1979.
Shcharansky, a Jewish dissident released as part of an East-West swap in February, 1986, said the Soviets implemented a new law Jan. 1 that further restricts emigration. Soviet Jews can apply to join only close relatives in other countries. Shcharansky estimated that this would close off avenues to about 90% of the Jews who wish to leave the Soviet Union.
The new law is an indication "there is no hope for mass emigration," said Shcharansky, a 39-year-old computer programmer who was imprisoned for eight years for treason, espionage and anti-Soviet agitation. He now lives in Israel with his wife and infant son.
Orlov, a 62-year-old physicist, said the prisoners who have been released, himself included, were "mostly those whose cases influenced the image of the Soviet Union."