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June 23, 1989 - Image 37

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

"We need to understand
that whatever Gorbachev is
doing, he's doing for his own
internal purposes," Wenick
says. "His goal is to enable
the Soviet Union to enter the
21st century in a better com-
petitive position."
- But the move towards
glasnost has also stirred up
more ominous forces in the
Soviet cauldron. "In a sense,
glasnost seems to be working
quite well — perhaps a little
too well, if we look at the in-
terests of Soviet Jewry. One of
the factors is the growing
public expression of anti-
Semitism. The opening up of
Soviet society is making it
more apparent — and to a cer-
tain extent driving it."

Anti-Semitism is being us-
ed as weapon by opponents of
Gorbachev's liberalization
and by the entrenched
bureaucracy, Wenick sug-

We should take
advantage of
opportunities .. .
without making'
assumptions that
what is happening
today will
necessarily be the

gests. The recent upsurge in
Pamyat activities is only one'
example of that trend.
The other key element to
Gorbachev's dramatic scheme
involves perestroika, the at-
tempt to invigorate the mori-
bund Soviet economy.
"That is substantially more
difficult," Wenick says. "Gor-
bachev knows what he wants
to achieve — a more powerful
Soviet Union, in an economic
sense — but I'm not sure he
has a road map of how to get
from point A to point B. There
are tremendous pressures
working against him in the
As a result of this volatile
mix, Wenick agrees with
other Soviet Jewry leaders
that the movement is now fac-
ing a "window of opportuni-
ty" that may not remain open
"It's very hard to be a
crystal ball reader with
regard to the Soviet Union to-
day," he says. "Eighteen
months ago, if I had been ask-
ed whether most of the things
that are going on today could
have happened, I would have

found it hard to believe. Very
few, if any, observers
predicted what we are seeing.
It's fair to say that this is a
highly unstable period; the
question is whether Gor-
bachev and his leadership
will be able to manage to hold
things together."
In contrast to Defense
Secretary Dick Cheney, who
recently predicted Gor-
bachev's political demise,
Wenick warns against
underestimating the Soviet
leader's staying power.
"One has to remember that
he is a wily politician. You
don't move up through the
Soviet system without know-
ing how it functions and
where the pitfalls are. But the
question is whether he will be
able to hold the process
together. That is an open
question, and other questions
arise from that."
"So I think we have a win-
dow of opportunity right now.
How long it remains open,
nobody knows. The history of
the Soviet Union suggests
that we need to be cautious,
that we should take advan-
tage of opportunities consis-
tent with our interests —
without making assumptions
that what is happening today
will necessarily be the situa-
tion tomorrow."
Martin Wenick's appoint-
ment came at a difficult time
for the National Conference
on Soviet Jewry. In the highly
competitive world of Soviet
Jewry organizations, the
group has suddenly found
itself outpaced by events.
As late as last year, the
primary thrust of the move-
ment was to apply unrelen-
ting pressure on the Soviets
to open up the emigration
process for Jews and other
minorities. NCSJ officials
made sure that administra-
tion and Congressional of-
ficials were constantly
reminded of the strong con-
cerns of thousands of
American Jews; the group
routinely briefed Secretary of
State George Shultz before
his meetings with the Soviets.
And the group's talented
Washington representative,
Mark Levin, developed an ef-
fective Congressional net-
work that helped maintain a
remarkable consensus on
Capitol Hill about the need to
keep human rights at the top
of the agenda for U.S.-Soviet
But now, with the
floodgates open and U.S.-
Soviet relations in an un-



precedented thaw, the em-
phasis has shifted
dramatically towards issues
of transit and resettlement,
more the province of groups
like the Hebrew Immigration
and Aid Society and the
Council of Jewish
Wenick seems largely un-
troubled by these organiza-
tional problems, although he
concedes that NCSJ's role is
"There were people who ad-
vised me not to take this job,
because the movement is over,
finished. But I see it as a junc-
ture; we are at the point of ob-
taining on a sustained basis
some of the goals we have
been pursuing for all these
years. But we are still talking
about only 55,000 or 65,000
people in the past two years;
the estimates are that the
total Jewish population of the
Soviet Union is at least 2
million. The Israelis have
estimated it as high as 3

"So it seems to me that on
one hand the advocacy move-
ment needs to remain strong
and vigilant so that there is
no backsliding by the Soviets.
At the same time, we have to
continue to make progress on
the long-term cases, the so-
alled refuseniks, of which are
in the neighborhood of 2,00
individuals. And we have to
ensure that the process that
is occurring now is institu-
tionalized. Now, it is a
haphazard process; at times,
it is capricious. So far, the
Soviets haven't come to grips
with this aspect of institu-
tionalizing the process."
Wenick also argues that
NCSJ can play a greater role
in the resettlement process.
"In some ways, we have
created a burden for these
other organizations. As an ad-
vocacy movement, we can't
say that people have now left
the Soviet Union, so we're
through with them. We need
to participate in the entire
process. Emigrating from
one's country is a terribly dif-
ficult process. For every per-
son that has an easy entry,
there are large numbers who
do not — the tremendous pro-
blems of learning a new
language, of retraining, of the
societal differences. It's a very
difficult process, and we need
to help these people through
At the same time, he sug-
gests, NCSJ can play a role in
the emerging Jewish cultural
identity movement. El

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