The Bible tells us that King Solomon was wise. It tells how he once determined the real mother of a baby by threatening to cut the infant in half, sharing it between the two women who claimed it -- suggesting in this way that Solomon had the answer to questions for which there are no answers. It is a gift that is desperately needed in Chicago.
There, a judge is once again agonizing over the dilemma of 12-year-old Walter Polovchak, the Ukrainian boy who refuses to return to the Soviet Union with his parents. Walter, enamored of his bike and distinctly not enamored of his father (the two of them don't seem to get along), has virtually applied for political asylum. The trouble with that is that he doesn't seem to have any politics.
That point seems to have been overlooked in the general and near-universal hand-wringing over sending the boy back to the Soviet Union whence he and his parents came not so long ago. Not once in the interviews he has given and in all that his relatives have said to the press, do you get a ringing declaration of love for the Bill of Rights and a condemnation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Instead, the boy talks of bikes and how he and his father are not now hitting it off. In short, it is what you might expect from a 12-year-old Ukranian or otherwise.
What you have here is truly the sort of situation that would have crossed even King Solomon's eyes. The choices are awful. You have to choose between taking a child away from his family or sending him -- along with his family -- to a country where he says he does not want to live and where the quality of life -- in matters that really count, like civil liberties -- is far inferior to our own.
So what we are talking about is the future of the child -- his whole life.But we are also talking about the family -- its integrity.It has not been alleged, for instance, that the father beats the boy or does not feed him, that he keeps him in the closet or makes him peddle dope on the street. What has not been alleged, in short, is that the boy is being treated in any of the ways that would compel the state under normal circumstances to move in and take him away from his family.
What is different about this case, then, is the politics of it -- the spectre of a boy being forced to leave America and live under a regime that most of us abhor. It is this prospect and the irrevocable nature of it that compelled me in an earlier column to say that the boy ought to be kept here -- writing like Solomon without benefit of his gift. What was missing at the time was the boy's own testimony -- the fact that what separated him from his father was not the question of America, but what usually separates boys from their fathers. They just don't get along.
The fact of the matter is that parents make irrevocable decisions for their children all the time. They are forever moving them around the country, into and out of foreign countries, raising them in weird and sometimes dangerous religions, choosing their schools for them and putting them on diets that can make their hair fall out. This, in effect, is no different from what the parents have decided here. We may not approve. We may, in fact, strongly disagree, but our grounds for disagreement have nothing to do with the child's health, but have instead to do with politics.
This is a family dispute that probably would not be in court if it were not for the politics of the situation. Kids who run away once are taken back to their families and kids who run away repeatedly are dealt with by social workers. This kid ran away just once. What he and his family need is not a good judge, but a good family therapist. Maybe then the family will decide to stay in America and everyone will be happy.
But now some judge must decide what to do with the boy. Good luck to him. Unlike columnists, his decision will stick. If he chooses to send the boy back to the Soviet Union with his parents, the boy, in some ways, will be a lot worse off. If he takes him from his parents, the boy may be better off in the long run, but we will not. We will be living in a country where a boy can be separated from his family for political reasons. That's the kind of thing people used to say could happen only in Russia.