"I became a dissident and later a dissident intellectual. Before this I remember myself to be a fanatic who was always ready to give up his life for Stalin. Stalin was god on earth for me."
- from the writings of Yuri Shabanov.
While President Reagan only raises eyebrows in Moscow while talking about Soviet human rights violations, Yuri Shabanov, a recent Soviet emigre living in Salt Lake City, believes that in his own case had he openly talked about such things he would now be living in Siberia.
Shabanov said General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev has changed things in the Soviet Union very little. A writer and college-level instructor, Shabanov emigrated two months ago from Moscow to Salt Lake City. Living alone, he is supported by U.S. welfare while he searches for a job and takes an adult community class in English.
The Soviet system, he said, "is the Brezhnevite system. The repressive line remains. The Brezhnevites are in the grand posts. They may do some things to be seen in the West that something has changed, but in reality it hasn't."
While Gorbachev, a former Brezhnev protege, speaks about mistakes of the Brezhnev era, he does not speak about crimes. People still "disappear" in the Soviet Union. People are still oppressed, Shabanov said.
"I was many times threatened with exile. After exile you have a chance to disappear, too, and nobody knows. Gorbachev won't know anything about it," he said.
Shabanov has long criticized the Soviet government and often secretly recorded his dissident thoughts while fearing for his life.
"My nature was protest," Shabanov said. "I wrote in my writing protest. Some of my writings I sent to the West."
He said he felt stifled living and working as a teacher at a worker's college in Moscow. Shabanov, who holds two post-graduate degrees, was allowed to finally emigrate after years of trying. He was assisted by the Italian-based Tolstoy Foundation. An American diplomat there directed him to settle in Salt Lake City.
"Every day I was imprisoned, because every day I was oppressed there. I did unlawful things from the political point of view of the administration. (For example,) I had no right to associate with foreign people, but I did it," he said.
He likens his new home to a little Washington, D.C. The State Capitol reminds him of his first choice of places to live in America. He came to Salt Lake City with little but memories of his homeland.
"They wouldn't allow me to take my lifetime collection library of about two thousand books. And when I took about 100 books of small significance they had taken about 30 (especially political) books. They disarmed my body and soul," he wrote in a chronicle of his emigration.
He wants to rebuild his library in a small east-side apartment. He wants to be hired as a manager, a writer or maybe even a teacher.
"I want to live the life of spiritual abundance. In this I see my personal happiness. To be useful for people _ this is of paramount importance in life worthwhile for living," he said.