East-bloc defectors meet with frustrations in the United States. They say that their `mission' to share their insights is ignored
Washington — The United States often fails to utilize the special skills and insights of refugees from the Soviet Union and other East-bloc nations, according to congressional testimony. Many aren't tapped for lecturing to colleges, writing newspaper articles, and otherwise conveying their impressions of communism to the American public. But many still find satisfying jobs.
Aleksandr Ushakov hiked over the Caucasus mountains into Turkey three years ago to seek asylum, but then couldn't find a job in the West. He now teaches language in Washington and has a book coming out next year about his experiences.
Alexandra Costa, another Soviet, was encouraged to become a secretary after she defected in 1978. She ignored the advice, earning an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and launching her own computer consulting firm instead.
``I decided that if I was going to make it here, I'd do it the American way,'' says Ms. Costa, who testified last week before the Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations.
The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia, is conducting an extensive investigation into how individuals such as Costa are treated in the US. The hearings follow several highly publicized cases in which defectors have returned to the Soviet Union.
Many defectors say they find the transition to American life difficult.
Unlike 'emigr'es, who move to the West with the approval of East-bloc governments, defectors leave (or fail to return to) their country without their governments' permission. Once here, they often find themselves isolated and unprepared for the challenge of building a new life. Even basic freedoms, such as the right to move or start businesses, can be daunting.
``Most defectors do have exaggerated expectations,'' says Costa. ``But it's not the expectation of striking it rich. It's the expectation of being useful to our new motherland.''
Costa says many defectors feel they have a ``mission,'' usually to inform the West about the communist world's ``true intentions.'' But they quickly learn that their opinions are not highly valued. Many Western analysts discount their opinions, arguing that they lack perspective.
Indeed, many individuals typically labelled ``defectors'' - such as university professors or ballet stars - may never even come under the supervision of US intelligence agencies.
The Senate subcommittee sought to focus on this broader group of so-called nonintelligence defectors. But in the course of last week's hearings, attention shifted across a wide range of former East-bloc citizens - from Jewish 'emigr'es to Soviet soldiers captured by resistance forces in Afghanistan.
Regardless of their background, defectors say the biggest problem they face is finding appropriate jobs.
Certain groups, such as athletes and artists, find it relatively easy to transfer their skills. But others find it almost impossible to continue in their specialty. In one case, a high-ranking Romanian economist ended up running a laundromat and selling ice cream in New York.
``We need a mechanism that opens the door - something that gives us a fair opportunity to start again from scratch,'' says Lawrence Martin-Bittman, a former Czech intelligence officer who teaches journalism at Boston University.
Dr. Bittman, who also testified before the subcommittee, says there is a bias on many campuses against East-bloc intellectuals. Most defectors arrive in the West without any proof of their academic credentials and are forced to start over.
Bittman says he landed his first teaching position as a result of a fortunate coincidence: He shared a three-hour car ride with a professor who listened to the problems he was having finding work. This same professor arranged for Bittman to teach a course, part-time, which eventually grew into a full-time position.