The Soviet media have taken up the cause of human rights with a vengeance this week, putting the United States in the docket as a repressive, racist, anti-Semitic society that spies on "different-minded people."
Like an echo bouncing off a wall, the human rights theme is being played back at Washington in the final days before the U.S.-Soviet summit, apparently to defuse any attempt by President Reagan to focus on the Soviet human rights record.
In the space of three hours last night, the Soviet news agency Tass transmitted six articles or commentaries purporting to describe American violations of civil liberties, including a historical analysis of executions of innocent people, a broadside on repression of American working-class movements, and messages and petitions on behalf of prisoners in U.S. jails.
"Rampant racism in many states, a policy of genocide against the native people, Indians, and harassment of dissidents, up to and including their being gunned down and bombed as in Philadelphia, are facts of life in the U.S. today," said the Institute of the International Working-Class Movement as quoted by Tass.
The steady drumbeat of articles attacking the United States for its social policies has taken a more urgent tone as the summit approaches. The United States is accused of hypocrisy for criticizing other countries for their human rights policies while it allegedly experiences an erosion of rights and liberties at home.
"There is an impression," wrote Tass analyst Igor Orlov, "that the more loudly representatives of the broad American public raise the question of the violation of human rights in the U.S.A. . . . the more active official Washington is in expressing 'concern' over . . . human rights in other countries."
In some cases, the Soviet press has attempted to mirror criticism of Soviet society. As the summit heightens expectations for thousands of Soviet Jews who have been refused permission to emigrate, the Novosti news agency yesterday carried a petition asking the U.S. government to stop the "wave of anti-Semitism sweeping the U.S." The petition, signed by 14 Jewish legislators in the Soviet Union, said that on Nov. 9 this year, 14 Jewish shops in New York were vandalized. This was compared to vandalism on the Nazis' "Crystal Night" 47 years ago when synagogues and Jewish businesses were attacked, beginning "Jewish pogroms and death-camp extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany."
The thrust of the recent articles represents a shift away from the Kremlin's usual attack on such U.S. social failings as unemployment, the homeless and soup kitchens. By focusing on what were described as deprivation of rights, these commentaries match western criticism of the Soviet Union, where dissent has been systematically eliminated in recent years.
It also reflects what western diplomats here say is the new combative tone that has recently dominated the official response to charges of human rights violations raised in high-level meetings.
The case that has been most prominent in the Soviet press during the last year has been that of Leonard Peltier, the American Indian serving a life sentence on a murder conviction in connection with a 1975 shootout in South Dakota in which two FBI agents were killed.
The case of Vitaly Yurchenko, who said he had been kidnaped by the CIA, was also featured in the campaign, as various groups expressed outrage at his treatment. Yurchenko's press conference, attended by a legal expert who accused the United States of "state terrorism," has been televised in full twice.