For several months now, Soviet experts in the West have pondered how to interpret Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s much-touted policy of glasnost, or openness. About 120 political prisoners were released between February and mid-April of this year. Of these, nine were believing Jews and 36 were Christians, according to Keston College, an England-based group that monitors religious oppression behind the Iron Curtain.
Many experts are urging caution and realism in assessing the apparent change of climate in the Soviet Union. Keston says at least 227 Christians remain in prison. It speculates there may be many more who are unknown.
In response, last month 15 Christian and human rights groups joined to form the Coalition for Solidarity with Christians in the USSR. Coalition chairman Kent Hill, also executive director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said that while coalition organizers “in no sense wish to ignore important developments now under way in the Soviet Union,” neither do they want to ignore “the continuing fundamental realities” in that country.
The coalition emphasizes a strategy of unity and grassroots activism. At its inaugural rally, held May 1 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, representatives of the Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic faiths displayed their concern for Soviet believers still facing harassment, persecution, and imprisonment because of their religious beliefs.
Hill said glasnost, in order to be considered genuine, must affect the entire fiber of the Soviet system. “It is one thing to release a prisoner early,” he said. “It is quite another to exonerate him. They are not exonerating the prisoners … nor have the statutes which ...1
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