Soviet Defectors - Emigration Restrictions - Legal Restrictive Mechanisms

Legal Restrictive Mechanisms

Defection attempts from the Soviet Union were governed by two laws: (i) illegal traveling abroad without a passport was a crime punishable by one to three years in prison, even in cases where the destination was another Eastern Bloc country; and (ii) illegal defection to a non-Eastern Bloc state and refusal to return home was considered treason against the state. To remove the temptation for such treason, the Soviets invested heavily in border controls, with lengthy criminal rules regarding approaching a border region. Almost no emigration occurred from the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s, except for ethnic Armenians returning to Armenia. In 1973, the United States Congress made liberalizing the Soviet emigration policy a prerequisite for lifting trade barriers, resulting in the emigration of 370,000 Soviet citizens, mostly ethnic Jews. A second wave of emigration started in 1986-87, after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, with most emigrants being ethnic Jews, ethnic Germans, Armenians, Greeks or Pentecostals.

Because of various international accords, non-Soviet Eastern Bloc countries did not explicitly ban emigration. Instead, they introduced a long series of approvals an applicant must obtain beyond the passport office—including local police, employers and the state housing commission—with no time limit set for action. Applications could be denied, without appeal, on a variety of subjective grounds, such as national security and "the interest of the state." Much was left to administrative discretion and unpublished internal directives, with the odds against eventually receiving after years of the process being extremely high. Like in the Soviet Union, attempting to leave without permissions to a non-Eastern Bloc state was punishable as treason, with Albania and Romania invoking the death penalty for such offenses. Even after families applied to leave to join refugees fleeing during the confusion of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Czechoslovakian authorities informed them "it is contrary to the State's interest to allow Czechoslovak citizens long-term private sojourns abroad, and that includes emigration. However, emigration was also used as a sort of release valve to hasten the departure of limited prominent vocal dissenters.

In 1964, Yugoslavia became the only communist country in Europe to allow its citizens to emigrate. Others qualified as refugees claiming to "escape" during crises, such as those fleeing during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Polish Solidarity events and various events that occurred in East Germany, Bulgaria and Albania in the late 1980s.

Read more about this topic:  Soviet Defectors, Emigration Restrictions

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