The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

GLASNOST HOLDS NO MEANING FOR SOVIET JEWS APRIL 1987

In this snapshot, the Jewish question, like the ethnic issue, forces Gorbachev
to choose between options that are sure to alienate one segment of the
population or another, if not the entire world. As he has before, and will
again, Gorbachev seems to abandon "the human factor" for the sake of
political expedience.

A quick comparison between two periods of liberalization in the Soviet Union--that under Khrushchev and that under Gorbachev--may shed some light on current developments in Moscow, including the place of the Jews in the era of glasnost.

When condemning the past, neither Khrushchev nor Gorbachev mentioned anti-Semitism as having been a problem in the country. Likewise, when talking with foreigners, both leaders acted as if "the Jewish question" did not exist in the USSR.

At the height of his campaign against "the cult of personality," Khrushchev denounced Stalin for a multitude of sins, but anti-Semitism was never among them. In addition, Khrushchev publicly denied, in the face of all available facts, that the famous "doctors' plot" (the arrest of leading Moscow physicians, mostly Jews, for conspiring to kill "the leading cadres of the USSR") was an anti-Semitic ploy and a pretext for the deportation of Jews to Siberia.

Gorbachev's glasnost has allowed Soviet politicians and journalists to discuss subjects that for decades have been considered taboo. During the past two years (particularly after the 27th Party Congress), the Soviet public has learned that corruption, drug abuse, prostitution, and abuses by the police and the courts are not exclusive to capitalist society, but flourish in socialist society as well. In addition, following the recent riots in Alma-Ata and elsewhere, the Soviet press has acknowledged that conflicts exist between Russians and non-Russians, pointing to the plight of Russians living in the national republics.

Still, the dirty laundry list compiled by Gorbachev's supporters fails to mention anti-Semitism, despite strong evidence of its existence at all levels of Soviet society (the mass emigration of Soviet Jews in the 1970s is, of course, the clearest evidence, even after accounting for motives other than discrimination). Soviet periodicals, including the relatively daring MoscowNews

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Detroit News on June 4, 1987.

-41-

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