Released Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky said tonight that he was skeptical about signs, including his release, that have been interpreted as suggesting the Soviet Union might change its policy on Jewish emigration.
While the Kremlin attempts to reap public relations benefits from such signs, its "inner policy" toward Jews and other dissidents has remained unchanged, Shcharansky said in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," broadcast from Tel Aviv.
When asked why Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev approved his release, Shcharansky said, "Well, I think that Mr. Gorbachev does try to demonstrate to the western world that he is ready to make some changes in his policy and wants to encourage the West to meet his aims in other branches -- economic, military and political.
"But, unfortunately, there is a set tradition that almost always when the Soviet Union makes such signs it immediately takes some steps in its inner policy in order to discourage those who could be encouraged by those signs," Shcharansky added.
During the past 3 1/2 years, Shcharansky said, the situation for Jews in Soviet prison camps constantly became worse. "The more Mr. Gorbachev was speaking about the civilized methods of behavior, the more I was surprised by how uncivilized their policy in the camps is," he added.
But, Shcharansky stressed, western governments should seize upon such infrequent signs of a liberalization of Soviet human rights policy to encourage further similar steps, while at the same time making clear to Soviet leaders that they cannot deceive the West through public relations ploys.
Asked whether he held out any hope for a general liberalization in Soviet policy toward Jewish emigration or the treatment of Jewish prisoners, Shcharansky replied, "Well, I'm afraid to say 'yes,' because you see, all the previous history makes me very skeptical . . . . You see, up to the moment of my release, we in the camps didn't see any changes."
Shcharansky estimated that among the Soviet prisoners labeled as "especially dangerous state criminals," there are hundreds who are actively resisting Soviet authority, as he said he did during nine years in prison camps, including 400 days in solitary confinement.
Additionally, he said, there are 10,000 to 15,000 other political prisoners who are imprisoned with ordinary criminals and "whose opportunity to struggle is in some ways harder."
Outside the prisons, Shcharansky said, there are hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews eager to emigrate, including several hundred "refusedniks" who are actively struggling for exit visas.
Shcharansky said that since his arrival in Israel, he had received telegrams from Jewish refusedniks in Moscow, "from which I understand they are going to continue their public activity in the same way in which they did in the 1970s."