Refuseniks

Guest post by Yaacov Ro’i

In August 1979 I attended the International Political Science Congress in Moscow. There I had the privilege of directly experiencing the subject of my academic work, the Soviet regime and Soviet society. Even more exciting, however, was that every evening and weekend over the course of three weeks I met with Jewish refuseniks in Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev. Since then I have felt an urge to research this incredible community. Coming from the core of the Soviet intelligentsia, these people created their own counter-world in the very heart of the Soviet metropolises. Their every activity and their keen intentness and enthusiasm stood in sharp contrast to the lethargy and apathy of their Soviet peers from whom they had cut themselves off.

The contributors to my new volume The Jewish Movement in the Soviet Union are in part Western scholars of my generation who underwent a similar initiation to my own, in part younger scholars who view the Soviet Union from the perspective of the present looking at something past, and in part people who participated in the struggle for Soviet Jewish emigration. Two of these participants are from inside the Soviet Union and the third, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, was one of the most influential and zealous Western supporters of the Soviet Jewish emigration movement.

The topic of this book is central to the drama of the disintegration of the Soviet superpower and to the arc of Jewish history in the last three decades of the 20th century. The purpose of the book is not to describe the heroism of the refusenik activists; this has been done elsewhere. Our objective is to demonstrate and analyze how the Jewish movement was born, how it operated, and why and how it succeeded. This volume also shows the ways the Soviet regime reacted to the movement and dwells on the interaction of Jewish movement activists with other Soviet dissidents and the differences between the two communities. Its novelty lies in its thematic probes of a broad range of important issues and its methodologically heterogeneous, but always rigorous, approach to a subject that has drawn much emotional attention.

Yaacov Ro’i is professor of history emeritus at the Cummings Center for Russian and Eastern European Studies at Tel Aviv University and the editor of The Jewish Movement in the Soviet Union, now available from the Woodrow Wilson Center Press and JHU Press.


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