MOSCOW — The American-Soviet peace march ended here Tuesday after a dramatic meeting with refuseniks, dissidents and others out of favor in Soviet society. Like much of the two-week trek from Leningrad to Moscow, the final day's events pointed up that this is an exciting and upredictable moment in Soviet history.
Over the quietly stated protest of the official Soviet co-sponsor and with the tacit consent of the American sponsors, individual walkers invited the unexpected guests.
Refuseniks Show Up
A dozen Jewish refuseniks showed up, as did three Hare Krishna members and 16 members of an unofficial Moscow peace group that the Soviets view with suspicion.
The meeting took place only hours before the Americans were to fly back to Washington.
The 230 Americans--who had walked and been bused nearly 400 miles with about 200 Soviets in an effort to "end an arms race no one wants"--would be leaving Wednesday morning.
They had started their joint venture outside of Leningrad on June 15, set out for Moscow three days later, and had spent 14 nights sleeping in tents, cots and occasional beds in a variety of camps, hotels, school dormitories, a few private homes and even a sanitarium.
They had been greeted by hundreds of thousands of Soviets, stood and sat through what seemed like countless welcoming ceremonies, had any number of unplanned and emotional personal encounters.
And now it was over. Almost.
Full of Surprises
Right to the end, this walk proved full of surprises, unprecedented events and countless defeats of the impossible and can't-be-dones.
Some of the American participants had already met privately with Soviet Jews who have applied to emigrate to Israel and been refused, with Soviets married to Americans who have likewise been refused and now refer to themselves as "divided spouses," and with dissidents, especially those people who disagree with certain aspects of Soviet foreign policy, such as its actions in Afghanistan, and who insist on linking peacemaking policies to human rights.
Indeed, one young man, Andrei Marinov, had attached himself to the peace walk two weeks earlier, saying he was a dissident who had been imprisoned and tortured in Siberia for having distributed protest literature about Afghanistan. The Soviets protested his presence, at times picked him up and held him elsewhere, questioned him, but he always made it back to the marchers.
Some Americans bought his story wholesale. Others thought he was a "set-up," as one disgruntled Soviet, herself a divided spouse, suggested to several Americans, a person provided by the Soviets "so that the Americans would have their dissident and not go looking for others." Some thought he was deranged and others wavered, simply describing themselves as not able to draw any conclusions.
What Marinov's mysterious presence indicated more than anything else to the Americans was that this first ever joint peace walk of Soviets and Americans was happening during an unpredictable time, a time when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of glasnost , or openness, and peristroika , or reconstruction, of society are in the air, but up in the air also. There was not a day on the march that did not indicate some of the uncertainty, promise and turmoil brewing as people try to guess which way the wind blows.
Nothing brought this home more than Tuesday. Those who attended the session with the dissidents were present at a rare few hours of Soviet life. Contrary to predictions of several knowledgeable people, the invited guests showed up.
Surprised by Cameras
First came 12 Jewish refuseniks. They were escorted into an auditorium where not only Americans, but several Soviet participants of the walk, and a documentary film crew of Soviets and Americans awaited them. The refuseniks were surprised by the cameras but after an initial protest they decided to stay.
Two hours later they left with several Americans to split up into small group discussions in hotel rooms. Next on the agenda were three Hare Krishna members who told of their group's persecution by the Soviet government. And finally, 16 dissidents, all members of an independent and unofficial peace group, the Moscow Trust Group, arrived.
The exchanges were frank and often heated. The refuseniks, who said they were all traditional but not religious Jews, told of being denied emigration because of "secret" (or classified) jobs held by themselves or a family member as long as 25 years ago. Once having applied to emigrate they became pariahs, either losing jobs or getting demoted and socially ostracized.
Attributing their status to "pure bureaucratic cruelty," one woman said, "such kind of a meeting for us is the first . . .. Maybe you will convince our authorities to finally let us leave."