He Assails Soviet ‘Face of Tyranny’ : 300,000 at N.Y. Rally Welcome Shcharansky
Anatoly Shcharansky received a joyous welcome from 300,000 New Yorkers on Sunday and told the cheering, dancing, flag-waving throng at a massive rally to free Soviet Jews: “All the resources of a superpower are not enough to isolate a prisoner who hears the voice of freedom from the very chambers of his soul.”
The 5-foot, 2-inch tall dissident--who spent nine years in Soviet prisons and labor camps before being freed last February in an East-West exchange--stood on a red carpeted platform to look over the podium. His words rang clearly through the streets.
‘Call of Solidarity’
“No public relations, no cosmetic changes can hide the face of tyranny that tries to deprive a nation of its freedom,” Shcharansky, who now lives in Israel, said.
“The call of solidarity breaks all the fences which Soviet leadership tries to build. The word solidarity is heard in the cities and the camps of the Soviet Union. It echoes in the dark corridors.
“The Soviet leaders today are trying to separate, to remove Jews from the bonds of their nation,” he said. “Four hundred thousand Soviet Jews are kept as prisoners in the Soviet Union. New attacks are made against our Hebrew culture and language. . . . The Soviet leaders must be brought to understand they will never be able to destroy our solidarity.”
Members of the crowd cheered, some wept, as Shcharansky, wearing a white shirt open at the collar and no tie, appeared on stage in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza across First Avenue from the United Nations. People waved flags, applauded, jumped like cheerleaders at a pep rally as the Soviet mathematician, smiling broadly, greeted New York’s Mayor Edward I. Koch, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo and more than a dozen other politicians on the crowded stage.
“Fifteen years have gone by since people first started to march,” Koch told the audience. “There are people in this crowd who carried the picture of Anatoly Shcharansky as one of the martyrs. What is unusual about Anatoly Shcharansky is the courage he exhibited under the most difficult of persecution, physical torture, mental torture. And this guy is only 5-foot-2. It shows courage has nothing to do with size.”
“Hundreds of thousands of Jews are denied, denigrated, debased only because they are Jews,” Cuomo said. “There can be no lasting trust between our nations until the Soviet Union frees Jews. . . . We are too many to be ignored and too determined to be dismissed.
“Next year in Jerusalem,” Cuomo added, echoing Shcharansky’s own words at his trial in 1978 for treason, espionage and anti-Soviet agitation.
The Solidarity Sunday rally, sponsored by a coalition of Jewish groups, was the high point of Shcharansky’s trip to New York before his scheduled meeting with President Reagan and members of Congress in Washington. The Jewish activist, who was a key member of Moscow’s refusenik community protesting Soviet emigration policies and human rights abuses in the Soviet Union, crossed the Glienicke Bridge into West Berlin on Feb. 11 as part of a prisoner exchange involving several Soviet Bloc agents.
Organizers said his presence brought out the largest audience in the 15-year history of the rally to show support for other dissidents still held in Soviet jails.
Shcharansky begged his audience not to forget the 400,000 Jews still seeking to emigrate from the Soviet Union. He asked those present to urge the U.S. government to exert economic and political pressure on the Soviet Union.
As Shcharansky spoke, his picture was seen on a huge television screen on one side of the stage, decorated with photographs of other Soviet dissidents still in prison or in forced labor camps.
Shcharansky said his KGB questioners tried to convince him he was forgotten in the West. At times, he said, they threatened to kill him or take away his psalm book. “I knew that I was never alone--that my wife, my people, all of you were behind me.
‘I Am Speaking to Your’
“They were trying to isolate me from my relatives,” Shcharansky continued. “Today, I am speaking to you. All this has become possible because of you.
“Four hundred thousand are still waiting. We have won once. Together, we will succeed again,” he added.
Shcharansky’s wife, Avital, who had addressed previous Solidarity Sunday rallies on his behalf, did not attend. She is in Israel expecting their first child.
The rally closed joyously and poignantly with the audience singing a Hebrew prayer and Shcharansky greeting the grandchildren of fellow refusenik Vladimir Slepak, who was sentenced to five years in Siberia. When the youngsters were brought on stage, Shcharansky hugged them.