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Reagan Meets 96 Soviet Dissidents : He Praises Their Courage, Says 'I Came to Give You Strength'

May 31, 1988|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

From Tashkent in Central Asia came Reshat Dzhemilev, a 30-year member of a movement to restore the rights of Crimean Tatars, a minority deported en masse by Josef Stalin from their Black Sea coast homeland. Dzhemilev said he had spent 7 1/2 years in the labor camps.

Nine Hours by Plane

Boris Perchatkin, an activist in the Pentecostalist church, came the farthest--nine hours by plane from Nakhodka on the Pacific Coast.

Others included Sergei Grigoryants, editor of the unofficial journal Glasnost, whose Japanese-made computer and archives were seized recently in a police raid.

Casting about for representives of all the major streams of human rights activities and all religious faiths, the U.S. Embassy extended invitations by telegram, then gave Soviet authorities a guest list.

"We said these are the people we want to see," a U.S. official explained.

He said that although not all had responded or accepted the invitations, none appeared to have been barred from coming, even though police and security forces have sealed the perimeter of Moscow--as usual during major public events in the capital--to prevent undesirable elements from entering.

Ivan Hel, a representative of the banned Ukrainian Catholic Church who clutched a wooden carving for the President, said he and seven others had set out from the Ukraine, but that police had pulled five of them off the train, apparently because they were not on the embassy's guest list.

In a sign of changing times in the Soviet Union, the guest list did not include Andrei D. Sakharov, the Nobel Peace laureate who was once regarded as a major force and the guiding conscience of the Soviet human rights movement.

In frail health at the age of 67, Sakharov, whom Gorbachev released from internal exile, has restricted his contacts with Westerners and Soviet human rights activists. Although he still speaks out on behalf of political prisoners, he is a supporter of Gorbachev's reform program.

A U.S. Embassy official said that Sakharov is no longer considered a dissident in the full sense of the word, but that he has been invited to the state dinner the Reagans will host tonight.

Seated next to the President was Abe Stolar, an American citizen born in Chicago who emigrated to the Soviet Union as a teen-ager with his parents in the 1930s. After trying for more than a decade, he has won permission to leave, but he refuses to do so until the family of his son's wife grants permission for her to go as well, as Soviet law requires.

Married to American

Next to Mrs. Reagan was Sergei Petrov, who has been barred from emigrating since his marriage to an American, Virginia Johnson, in 1981.

Petrov, who befriended Ronald Reagan Jr. during his two visits to Moscow, said he thanked Mrs. Reagan for an invitation he received last year to a White House concert. He said she replied by patting his hand and telling him "we'll keep trying, we'll keep pushing" to resolve his case.

"I'm an old fan of his, as are many of the refuseniks, so it was very nice to see him in person and to see his personal, deep concern," Petrov said of Reagan.

"On the American side, I've seen everybody up to the President" about my problems, he added. "On the Soviet side, the highest authority I've been able to speak with is a junior clerk."

Three of the guests were asked to make three-minute speeches in response to the President--Yakunin, veteran dissident Sergei Kovalyov and Yuli Kosharovsky, a Jewish refusenik who has waited 17 years for permission to emigrate.

Situation Not Improved

Despite claims by the Kremlin leadership to advocate democratization of the Soviet Union, Kosharovsky said, the situation of Jews has not improved.

"The government continues to deny our right to learn and teach our national language or to have access to the riches of our culture," he said. "With the entire Jewish population in this country, there is only one Orthodox rabbi. There is no Hebrew school. . . . In the meantime, a large quantity of anti-Semitic literature is being published and distributed."

Yakunin, equating the urgency of human rights with arms control, credited Reagan for the release of political prisoners that began last year through public and diplomatic pressures on the Kremlin, and he voiced the hope that the next President will continue.

"We sincerely hope that when your successor takes over, whether he is a Republican or a Democrat, the banner of the battle for human rights which you hold up so high will be taken over by him," Yakunin said.

Kovalyov, a sociologist who spent seven years in labor camps and three more in internal exile for advocating democratic change in the Soviet Union, said the promising changes now taking place can survive and develop only with fundamental changes in the Soviet legal system.

Hope for an Open Society

"We hope that these changes will gradually bring us to an open and legal society and to the idea that our state and our country would become a full-fledged and respected member of the world community," he said.

The hourlong session afforded the dissidents and others no chance to chat with the Reagans, a disappointment for some. Several noted that its value was mostly symbolic.

"The fact that this meeting took place was more important than the words that were spoken," said Yuri Zieman, who attended despite illness. "It was very, very moving."

As Reagan met the dissidents and refuseniks at Spaso House, several dozen other refuseniks conducted the latest in a series of demonstrations near the steps of the Lenin Library within sight of the Kremlin.

About 100 bystanders gathered around the group on Kalinin Prospect, some sympathetic to their plight and others who condemned Zionism as a form of fascism--an official position of the state.

As the crowd ignored police orders to disperse, preferring to stay and debate with some of the refuseniks, Vladimir Meshkov, his wife and three children held signs declaring, "Refusal Is a Form of Murder."

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