Anatoly Shcharansky and Yelena Bonner, founding members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, which was crushed for trying to monitor human rights in the Soviet Union, met here today for the first time in nearly a decade, commemorating the group's 10th anniversary.
Shcharansky, who survived nine years in a Soviet prison before being released last month, and Bonner, who has lived through years of internal exile, fell into each other's arms, laughed and "began talking Russian a mile a minute," according to publisher Robert Bernstein, chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee.
The reunion took place in Bernstein's office at Random House, which is publishing Shcharansky's memoirs. The U.S. Helsinki Watch Committee is a human rights monitoring group.
After a 15-minute private conversation, the two joined more than 30 American human rights activists in the board room to celebrate, as Bonner put it, "a kind of a birthday." But it was a somber birthday filled with words of bitterness, disappointment and frustration.
On the walls hung photographs of Yuri Orlov, now frail and white-haired after years in a Soviet labor camp, and others among the 36 imprisoned members of the small Moscow group that, for nine months in 1976, gathered and disseminated information on Soviet persecution of Jews, Christians, Ukrainians and other minorities.
Orlov, a Soviet physicist and founder of the group, served seven years in a prison camp because of the group's activities, only to be sentenced to a five-year exile in Siberia. Orlov, Shcharansky said, took "the decisive step" to form the group.
"I didn't see any other person in the Soviet Union who could organize people -- Zionists, monarchists, Russians and Ukrainians and Eurocommunists -- those who wanted to leave and those who were concerned about religious freedom," Shcharansky said.
So many of the group have been arrested, Bonner said, that "finally, when it was the annual political prisoners' day, I had to spend it all by myself." Bonner lives with her husband, physicist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, in the closed city of Gorky. She is in the United States on medical leave until June 2.
Bonner said there is a "heated debate among Russian emigres" over whether the Helsinki accords that govern human rights, ignored by the Soviets, should be canceled. "We must continue the Helsinki process [as] a platform to discuss these issues," she said.
Shcharansky, accused by the Soviets of spying for the United States, said his fellow prisoners' "deepest disappointment" came when the accords were renewed in 1983 "without any improvement in the [Soviet prison] camps, without any additional emigration, without a stop to the harassment of minorities and religious people."
The agreement, which commits its signatories to respect for fundamental human rights, was signed by 35 nations in Helsinki in 1975 and renewed eight years later in Madrid. New talks are to begin in Vienna this year.
Shcharansky, who is to meet with President Reagan in Washington this week, said the United States must maintain "political and economic pressure" on the Soviet Union. "The Jackson amendment [which tied trade with the Soviet Union to human rights in 1974] was a very correct thing."