The Status of the Jews in the Soviet Union

Courtesy Reuters

During the past quarter-century, enlightened public opinion throughout the world has become keenly sensitive to the treatment of minorities as a barometer of moral decency and social sanity. The awesome experiences of this period have drawn particular attention to the symbolic and actual position of the Jewish minority. In this light, the status of the Jews in the Soviet Union warrants special concern.

The situation of Soviet Jews can be comprehended primarily within the framework of Soviet nationalities policy. That policy, as reflected in Communist party directives, the Soviet Constitution and public law, is based on the ideological acceptance of the concept of national self- determination and on the legal recognition of the right of all nationalities within Soviet borders to cultural freedom. Actual Soviet policy toward the Jews clearly violates these principles. It is tantamount to a policy of discrimination for it denies to the Jews such ethnic- cultural rights as are generally accorded all other Soviet nationalities.

The Soviet Union officially recognizes Jews as a nationality. In the personal identification papers which all Soviet citizens carry (the internal "passport"), Jews must list their nationality as "Jewish" (Yevrei) just as other nationalities-such as Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians and others-must list theirs. Thus, in the official Soviet census returns of 1959, published in Pravda on February 4, 1960, Jews are listed among the official nationalities. In all previous censuses, citizens were required to provide proof, in the form of their internal passport, of their claim to belong to one or another nationality. In 1959, for the first time, they were allowed to volunteer, without proof, the nationality with which they chose to be identified. Despite the possibility thus provided for Jews to "pass," 2,268,000 people specified their nationality as Jewish (there are reasons to believe that the total number more closely approximates 3,000,000).

Soviet Jews constitute 1.09 percent of the population, but they occupy a far more significant place than this figure suggests. Of the considerably more than 100 diverse Soviet nationalities, the Jews are eleventh numerically. The great majority

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