Primary Sources

Jewish Rights in the Soviet Union


As the Communist Parties throughout Eastern Europe lost power throughout the fall of 1989, the issue of the treatment of minorities inside those countries gained increased prominence. The ongoing plight of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the tensions among the nationalities of Yugoslavia were two areas of international concern. The Soviet Union faced its own minority issues with the political demonstrations in the Republic nations, including in Lithuania and Georgia. Included among these ethnic tensions was the Jewish population of the Soviet Union, who had faced persistent difficulties throughout Soviet history, beginning with freedom of religion and including their attempts to emigrate. In the spring of 1990, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain addressed the current treatment of the Jews in the Soviet Union at the meeting of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which had been pursuing the cause of Jewish rights in the Soviet Union since the signing of the Helsinki Declaration in 1975.


Margaret Thatcher, "Speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews," speech, London Press Centre, London, England, February 19, 1990, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

... there is no doubt that the improvements we have seen would not have come about but for Mr. Gorbachev. I have discussed the matter with him on several occasions and he has always been very direct with me, which I appreciate. When we last spoke about it in September he was absolutely clear—there are no more obstacles, those who want to can go.

Things are very much better with over a hundred synagogues functioning and emigration at a record level of 70,000 last year. And all of you who have worked for that result can take great pride in it.

But equally ... the problem is not yet finally resolved. Whether because of obstacles in the bureaucracy, or for whatever reason, there are still Jews wrongfully imprisoned, there are still long-term Refusniks who are not allowed to leave the country, the draft Emigration Law which we have seen seems still too restrictive. There are worrying signs ... of anti-Semitic propaganda being put out by extremist organisations which have nothing to do with the Soviet government. Indeed, it is entirely contrary to the spirit of perestroika.

So we shall continue to make our views and concerns known to the Soviet authorities. We shall repeat that we are very grateful for everything that has been done so far. But we cannot rest until all injustices are put right.

The Soviet authorities well know that we have yet to make up our minds about attending the Human Rights Conference in Moscow next year and that we expect the undoubted progress in their human rights record to be sustained.

How to Cite this Source

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "Jewish Rights in the Soviet Union," Making the History of 1989, Item #75, (accessed September 19 2021, 9:50 am).

Associated Files