Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Refusenik" (2007)

Laura Bialis spent five years shooting and editing this documentary detailing the world wide movement to free the Soviet Jews and allow them free passage to Israel.
It is a dramatic even heartbreaking story, but foremost it is a tale of activists and activism in America. From their initial bid to convince mainstream Jewish opinion of the righteousness of their cause to their decentralized but effective lobbying efforts all over the nation.
And in truth, they had good reason to press their case, the USSR was probably the last nation in the West to practice systematic anti-semitism. Josef Stalin was clearly preparing a vast blood purge of the CPSU in 1953 that would have included a nation-wide anti-Jewish pogrom. Only his timely death in March of 1953 prevent this catastrophe from happening. His successors a dumb and crude bunch were perfectly happy to treat the jews as second and even third class citizens according to the time honored rules of repression in Russia.
Thus truly serious people had good cause to worry about the fate of the jews in the USSR.
It's a twenty year story about a group of students and housewives who re-wrote the rules on diplomacy in this country, until the whole Refusenik mishaugas few activists over and above the Viet Nam war demonstrators took on the foreign policy of both the USA and USSR in such a specific and critical manner. As such they remain the model for international issue politics to this day, anti apartheid activists, pro-Tibetan groups and such-like all owe the campaign to free Soviet Jewry a debt of gratitude.
The movement to free Soviet Jews stands out as a unique and fragile example of bipartisanship, no other mode of "issue politics" included everyone from Edward M. Kennedy to William F. Buckley in it's ranks. It exactly the sort of unity you rarely see in US politics and perhaps with good reason.
I had the good fortune to meet Ms. Bialis in San Francisco last week, she is articulate with an encyclopedic knowledge of her topic. At present "Refusenik" lacks a distributor, it is nonetheless slated to run in Boston next month at one of the Landmark theaters, I urge all and sundry to see this film.

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