MOSCOW — Josef Begun, who achieved fame as a Jewish refusenik because of heavy-handed KGB tactics in the so-called "Battle of the Arbat" a year ago, left for Israel with his family on Monday.
"Shalom," Begun said, using the Hebrew word for peace, as he greeted about 200 well-wishers who came to see him off at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport. Begun and his family left for Bucharest, Romania, where they will spend the night before flying today to Israel.
It was the end of a nearly 17-year battle to emigrate that saw him exiled and imprisoned before Soviet authorities finally granted him an exit permit.
"Now that I'm going, I feel even more the wishes and dreams of those I leave behind, and who want to live as Jews," the gray-bearded Begun said at the pre-dawn farewell. "We will not forget those we are leaving. That's the most important thing--not to forget.
"I am leaving many people near and dear to me, but I have 3 million sisters and brothers in Israel," Begun said.
In a related development, Yuri B. Kashlev, a Foreign Ministry official, said 33,000 Soviet citizens, including children, emigrated last year, or more than six times as many as in 1986. He also said that 300 families who had left the Soviet Union changed their minds and returned in 1987.
Kashlev, head of the department of humanitarian and cultural ties, said at a news conference that most of those who received permission to leave the country were Jews, ethnic Germans and Armenians who joined relatives abroad. Western agencies said the Jewish emigrants numbered about 8,000, the highest total since 1981.
Begun, however, said the increase in emigration was just a show to dupe the West into thinking that there was a real change in emigration policy under Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Begun, 55, was released unexpectedly last Feb. 20 from Chistopol prison, east of the Urals. He had served less than half of his seven-year term for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda."
Begun's release came after his family and friends attempted to stage demonstrations on his behalf that month in the historic Moscow mall called the Arbat. For four consecutive days, dozens of KGB agents broke up the demonstrations by shoving, punching and kicking pro-Begun demonstrators and Western journalists.
The resulting worldwide publicity apparently led Kremlin officials to decide to release Begun and minimize the public relations damage from the incident.
In an airport interview Monday, Begun, a Hebrew teacher and a leader in the Jewish emigration movement, was pessimistic about future emigration chances for Soviet Jews.
After the Washington summit meeting between Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Reagan in December, Begun said Soviet officials shut off issuance of exit visas for Jews.
"There is a terrible situation for Jews in this country," Begun said. "The anti-Semitism reminds us of the very terrible times of the past, of Germany during the time of Nazism."
Begun left with his wife, Inna, and her 79-year-old mother. Boris Begun, 23, his son by a former marriage, also emigrated, along with his wife and two children.