MOSCOW -- Until recently, the official line was that anti-Semitism does not exist in the U.S.S.R. We had been told that it was a thing of the past. Now, just like crime and drug addiction, anti-Semitism has been officially recognized as a fact of life in our society. And yet, its scale and specific manifestations are not known to the public. The Jewish question, in effect, is a forbidden subject for the Soviet media.

The present-day anti-Semitism is multifaceted. In the darkness of night, a petty pogrom anti-Semite desecrates Jewish cemeteries, paints swastikas and obscenities on Jewish homes, calls for purging the Jews in the name of Russia's salvation. The spiritual heirs of "The Black Hundred," members of "Pamyat" and other similar organizations, recite the notorious "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Their preachings about the "vicious role of the Jews" and "the World Jewish Conspiracy" are disseminated in tape-recordings and leaflets, and then reappear in a slightly disguised form in the media. Posing as fighters against Zionism, an army of propaganda anti-Semites uses the press to incite the people of our country against Jews. Their writings are printed in millions of copies and poison millions of minds.

For decades, the Middle East situation has been used by anti-Semites for inciting hatred of our people. The media present the Arab-Israeli conflict without consideration of the interests and opinions of 2 million Soviet Jews, most of whom sympathize and maintain personal and family contacts with the Jewish state.

No less horrible is the hidden, submerged anti-Semitism that strives to push us out of the mainstream of the Soviet society. In the eyes of a bureaucratic anti-Semite, all Jews are disloyal and politically suspicious, especially since the beginning of the Jewish emigration movement in the '70s. All of us are familiar with the shameful fact that many institutions, universities and whole areas of government service are closed to Jews.

Another form of anti-Semitism is the ban on Jews' having their culture, language and history. In the Soviet Union, there are no Jewish schools or Jewish social, cultural or other institutions. A Jewish press is not accessible to most of us. The very word "Jew" has been removed from textbooks and has disappeared from both mass and scholarly publications.

Our people, who in such a short historical period, lived through the Holocaust, the "Doctor's Plot" and the destruction of intellectuals in Stalinist jails, is now losing touch with its national heritage. The golden thread that links us with our past, with the thousands-year-long tradition, is getting thin. The crisis of Jewish culture increases assimilation. Our numbers are going down. Every decade, with every census we are 200,000-300,000 people less!

What should we do? Many feel that the only route out of the ethnic inferiority toward meaningful national life is to leave the U.S.S.R. But even by the most liberal estimates hardly a quarter of Soviet Jews want to leave. Three-quarters of us have resolved to remain here.

Where could we turn for help? During the recent months, both expectations and direct calls have been addressed to the Soviet government to put an end to the growth of anti-Semitism and take measures to revive Jewish culture, education and press. So far, the state has not responded to these pleas. But we too must understand that it is up to ourselves to find a way out of this situation; no one will do it for us. And this takes a lot.

We need a recognized and accepted right to counter anti-Semitism, to expose all its manifestations and to resist it. This right has now become our most vital and urgent need since anti-Semitism in our society is gaining strength. In this, we would like to see understanding by the Soviet state and general public.

But we also should strengthen friendship and understanding with the other peoples of our country. There were many good chapters in our mutual history. Jews have made substantial contributions to Russian culture, scholarship and social life. Not so long ago, Russia was the cradle of many social, cultural and religious trends of the Jewish people. Unforgettable is the role of the Soviet people, including Soviet Jews, in the defeat of Naziism. The Soviet state helped refugees, organized resistance, contributed to the saving of remaining European Jews from the Holocaust. All this could be the basis for friendly, truly internationalist relations with other peoples of the Soviet Union, which are essential for our normal cultural and national life here.

We are fragmented and dispersed. The majority of Soviet Jews live in the urban centers of the European part of the country. The Jewish Autonomous Region in the Far East failed to become and certainly will not become a center of Jewish life in the Soviet Union. Weak cultural institutions and the Yiddish press are also doomed to fail. We must look for new forms to develop our culture.

Most of all we need to unite. A lonely Jew, who feels himself to be a Jew only when confronted by an anti-Semite, is helpless. The feeling of unity with the people, its past and present, mutual help by all Jews, and solidarity with the best representatives of other peoples will give us strength and confidence. The time has come to unite for the struggle against anti-Semitism and for the Jewish culture in the U.S.S.R. We must have a public association devoted to our culture and our national dignity.

We abide by the rule of our fathers: "The law of the land is your law." Our association should be in accordance with the Soviet laws and all other conventions of public life. But we hope that the Soviet State will help us by removing artificial restrictions on its Jewish minority.

We also hope that the Jews of the Soviet Union will hear our call and join us in the search for a stable and dignified national future. We must work for this goal for our own sake and for the sake of our children. The writers recently founded a Moscow Jewish Association, which they are trying to register with the authorities.