In August of 1975, after the signing of the Helsinki Agreement on security and cooperation in Europe, I received an exuberant letter from my husband, Anatoly Scharansky: "They have signed an international agreement," he wrote, "and it speaks exactly of us: of the reunification of families and of free emigration. Soon we will be together in Jerusalem." Not only Anatoly but all those around him were elated.
Anatoly and I had been kept apart for a year: at the time of President Nixon's visit, I had been granted an exit visa, and Anatoly's application had been denied. We were told that unless I made use of my visa I would never be granted another. And we were told that Anatoly would certainly receive his visa within six months. I left. A year of delay and disappointment followed. With the Helsinki Agreement we hoped that Anatoly and many others would be allowed to go to Israel.
The reality, however, was different. At the very time of the signing of the agreement, the KGB began a new attack against the Jewish emigration movement. They forbade demonstrations. Those who dared demonstrate to express their wish to go to Israel were arrested and sent to Siberia for five years. Those who applied to emigrate lost their jobs and were accused of being "parasites." Students who applied to emigrate were expelled from their universities and drafted into the army. Their applications were then dismissed on the pretext that they had learned military secrets. Those who refused to serve in the army were imprisoned.
In response to these and other violations against human rights, a group of very courageous people, including my husband, sought to bring Soviet violations of the accord to the attention of the world. The KGB fought against this group as well.
In 1977 Anatoly was arrested and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment on the ridiculous charge that he was a spy for the CIA--a charge immediately denied by President Carter. The true reason for the arrest and the very harsh sentence was the desire to destroy the Jewish emigration movement.
In 1978, the 35 nations met again in Belgrade to review compliance with the Helsinki Agreement. Again the same contradiction occurred. While inside at the official sessions there were speeches about human rights, in the Soviet Union the KGB was arresting and imprisoning those trying to defend the rights ensured them by the agreement.
This September, the three-year-long Madrid Conference will conclude with a ceremony. Today the members of the unofficial Soviet group monitoring the Helsinki Agreement remain in prison. Emigration has almost completely ceased. The Soviet government has launched an intense campaign of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Will Madrid repeat the experience of Helsinki and Belgrade?
A process that improves the dialogue between East and West certainly serves the interests of peace. But signatures without actions are self-contradictory. The countries participating in the Madrid Conference have a grave responsibility to the dissidents and "refuseniks"-- those refused emigration visas--who have put themselves in danger. These brave people have attempted to uphold the rights that every country present at Madrid has previously accepted and is now reaffirming--rights that have not yet come to be.
For those trapped in the Soviet Union, Madrid can be not only a disappointment but a source of danger. If the U.S.S.R. sees that the West is willing to reach agreements without requiring actual and concrete concessions, the Soviets will feel still more free to suppress human rights. The result will be not to protect human rights but to destroy them.
Moreover, can Russia's commitment to future agreements be trusted when it refuses to abide by its prior agreement at Helsinki? If the Soviet Union hopes to continue the Helsinki process and to move on to further accords, it should offer concrete action demonstrating its good intentions.
In spite of the Soviet law granting visits to prisoners every six months, Anatoly had been denied visits for a year and a half. After months of writing letters, he learned that none of them had been sent. He began a hunger strike that lasted three and a half months. Finally, several weeks ago, on July 5, his mother was allowed to speak to him through a glass partition. He told her:
"Everything that has been done to me for the past six years has been illegal. Remember that at my trial it was announced that I had nothing to say to judges who in two hours' time would read a sentence that had been prepared well in advance. I will not say one word but every day that I am in prison is a continuation of the illegal situation that began with my trial. I am an innocent victim and this is well known to everyone, especially to those who framed me."
I add my own hopes that the United States, a nation founded on the principle of individual liberties, will be true to those who are fighting for these very principles.