A prominent Soviet playwright visiting Los Angeles has issued a plea to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to condemn a rising tide of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union before it erupts into widespread violence.
Alexandr Buravsky, a liberal supporter of Gorbachev, said that an increasing number of overtly anti-Semitic publications, articles and demonstrations--coupled with threats to stage pogroms against Jews in Moscow on May 5 and a recent disruption of a Moscow writers' meeting by anti-Semites--make it imperative that Gorbachev put his personal prestige on the line against anti-Semitism.
"This is my appeal to Gorbachev: Act according to (the) Constitution, but act," Buravsky said. "This chauvinistic propaganda--it is his obligation to stop it. Now, nobody has stopped it and people really feel panic." The Soviet Constitution prohibits fostering ethnic hatred.
Buravsky, who had six hit theater productions in Moscow and four movies in the last 3 1/2 years, is in Los Angeles in connection with his latest play, "The Russian Teacher," which had a reading Jan. 22 at the South Coast Repertory theater in Costa Mesa.
He said he is addressing his plea to Gorbachev not only because of the urgency of the situation, but also to raise American public opinion, which he said is influential in the Soviet Union.
"We shouldn't wait for a fire. We should try to prevent (it), if you can smell the smoke," he said in an interview at the home of a Los Angeles friend.
The 37-year-old playwright, a lanky, soft-spoken man, has considerable political stature in a country where, until recently, the theater has been a major avenue for dealing with themes too controversial to address directly. He became famous in 1986 as author of "Speak Out!," which created a sensation as the first play produced in Moscow that criticized Stalin.
Buravsky said the recent rise in anti-Semitism, which has a long history in the Soviet Union, is not merely a grass-roots phenomenon, nor is it limited to Moscow.
His statement is supported by a speech in December at the newly created Soviet Congress of Jewish Organizations, where anti-Semitic demonstrators shouted slurs at delegates. The speech reported more than 50 desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and hundreds of anti-Semitic rallies in recent months, according to one account.
At the highest levels, Buravsky charged, anti-Semitism has received veiled backing from the most conservative members of the Politburo, Yegor K. Ligachev and Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov, whom he claimed signaled their support in published interviews in which they praised lists of writers made up solely of anti-Semites.
He also charged that anti-Semitism is tolerated or receives support at lower official levels.
Attempts to reach officials at the Soviet Embassy in Washington or at the Consulate in San Francisco were unsuccessful on Friday.
Buravsky said that police, who regularly cordon off pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow's Pushkin Square, do not interfere with frequent demonstrations by the openly anti-Semitic organization Pamyat (Memory), he said. In fact, he added, the organization several months ago held a demonstration in Red Square, which is reserved for official ceremonies and where public conduct is strictly regulated.
A number of publications recently have been taken over by editors who publish anti-Semitic tracts, he said, pointing to several recent articles in the journal Our Contemporary, including one in the June issue that identified Soviet Jews as a "small nation" preying on the "large nation." According to Buravsky, other anti-Semitic themes range from the proposition that Jews controlled Stalin and his murderous excesses to blaming Jews for Gorbachev's policies.
Leaflets by the thousands have recently been distributed in Moscow calling for violence against Jews on May 5, he said.
Buravsky said he frequently gets letters attacking him as a Jew, and he added that making a plea to Gorbachev in Los Angeles to act against anti-Semitism is likely to make him more of a target.
"I feel that I can have some troubles with this interview when I come back to Moscow, but it is my obligation to do something," he said. "Many people in the Soviet Union look at America."