SPOKANE, Wash. — Officials of the Soviet Union’s pavilion at Expo ‘74 abruptly changed policy Sunday and allowed within the exhibit persons wearing shirts protesting Russian treatment of Jews.
The shirt-wearers were allowed within the pavilion for the first time in 1½ days precisely when reporters arrived at the exhibit.
About 50 persons, most of them young people attending a youth convention, had been repeatedly ejected and told to move away from the immediate area since the fair opened Saturday.
Russian security chief Uri Belov told reporters that the Soviets had never asked their private security guards to eject the quiet protestors. But a spokesman for the Burns guard agency said it was Belov who personally directed the guards to expel wearers of the shirts.
The shirts, part of an informational protest staged by the Spokane Interreligious Committee for Soviet Jews, read, “Let Them Live Free — Save the Soviet Jews.”
World’s fair officials met with pavilion directors early Sunday and told them that the exhibit, as part of a free-access fair, must be open to everyone. An Expo spokesman said the fair would not ban political shirts unless they were obscene.
“The Russians felt this was an internal matter,” said fair Vice President John Musgrave, “but it’s in everyone’s best interests if people are allowed free access to all pavilions.”
Eugene Huppin, a Spokane attorney leading the informal protest group, said the Soviets were attempting to squelch free speech. He said the shirt-wearers were not disrupting the pavilion or the fair.
Pamphlets distributed outside the fair grounds Saturday urged people to see the Russian pavilion. But it asked spectators to “remember that Soviet Jews are denied freedom and basic human rights.”