Sharansky: From Soviet dissident to Pres. Bush´s muse (REUTERS) By Megan Goldin JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 01/30/05 10:11 PM ET)
Reuters News Service
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - It´s been a long and lonely road for former
Soviet dissident Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky who has for years been
ridiculed for his political theories of spreading democracy across
the globe to obtain world peace.
But the former Soviet "refusenik", who is now a cabinet minister in
the Israeli government, no longer walks alone. His companion in his
campaign to democratise the world is no less than U.S. President
George W. Bush.
To have the ear of the most powerful leader in the world after
decades of having his political ideology dismissed as naive and
eccentric is a pleasant change for the diminutive Ukrainian-born
"I am sorry that there are so few people who believe in these ideas
but it´s nice to think that one of these very few people is the
President of the United States," said 57-year-old Sharansky in an
interview at his office in Jerusalem.
Not only did Bush read Sharansky´s new book "The Case for Democracy"
with avid interest days after it was published, but he gave a copy to
his top adviser Condoleezza Rice and said he personally bought a copy
for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
"This is a book that ... summarises how I feel. I would urge people
to read it," Bush told CNN.
Bush was so taken with the book that he summoned Sharansky to the
White House in November. The president spent an hour in the Oval
Office discussing Sharansky´s ideology based on his years as a
dissident and prisoner in the Soviet Union.
"I told him (Bush): ´You are the real dissident. Politicians look at
polls -- what is popular, what is not popular. A dissident believes
in an idea and goes ahead with it ... even when there are so many
people who disagree,´" Sharansky said.
He has espoused these views for more than two decades, but said he
had been largely dismissed "as a guy who has spent too much time in a
Soviet prison, so he is a bit crazy in the head".
Palestinians and Israeli peace activists see him as betraying the
values of freedom and human rights he says he holds dear because he
has not fought Israeli occupation and has helped prop up a succession
of right-wing Israeli governments.
Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told him: "They are good ideas but
they don´t belong to this part of the world."
BUSH: SHARANSKY´S GREATEST FAN
So it was with a feeling of vindication that Sharansky heard Bush´s
inauguration address on Jan. 20 in which he called for "expansion of
freedom" around the world and an end to tyranny, phrases which could
have been taken from the pages of his book.
"I was very excited not only because the words were so familiar and
the ideas were so important. (But) the ideas were expressed with such
confidence ... not by an academic but by the leader of the free world
who was going to implement them."
The softly-spoken Sharansky does not claim to have put words in
Bush´s mouth. Rather he says his book gave Bush a historical context
and political theory "for his instinctive feelings".
Sharansky´s theories on "liberty" and "freedom" germinated while
working as an aide to leading Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov in the
1970s and during his eight years in a Siberian jail after the Soviet
authorities convicted him as a spy and traitor.
He became a symbol for the movement to free Soviet Jews and under
enormous international pressure, particularly from the United States,
was released in 1986 as part of a prisoner swap with Moscow. He
immediately immigrated to Israel.
There a painfully thin Sharansky, despite being force fed at a Soviet
hospital before his release, was greeted as a national hero. He later
formed a party for Russian immigrants which joined the right-wing
government of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.
He resents being pigeonholed as a "right-winger" despite opposing the
1993 Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians. He says his political
views are conceptually different from anything on the Israeli
political spectrum today.
"Today I am called a right-wing extremist. Tomorrow I will be called
a left-wing extremist," he said. "I am a refusenik".
He says he would give the Palestinians "all the rights in the world"
once they instituted full democracy which he believes would ensure
the existence of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
The gist of Sharansky´s view is that the "free world" should
encourage countries to democratise by linking international standing
and aid to their record on human rights and freedom of speech.
It was such linkage through the 1975 Helsinki Agreements that led to
the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, he said.
STILL A "REFUSENIK"
Sharansky said he firmly believes the world would be more stable and
extremism would fizzle out if all peoples, including those in the
Middle East, enjoyed freedom and democracy.
As with Bush´s speech, Arab academics are somewhat sceptical about
"I can´t swallow that he was a champion of human rights in the Soviet
Union and when he came over here he forgot his past and was part of
the scheme of occupying another people," Palestinian political
analyst Ali al-Jarbawi told Reuters.
Sharansky says he has been misrepresented as a hard-liner when he is
simply committed to his belief that there will never be peace without
democracy in the Arab world and elsewhere.
"That so many people in the free world believe there will never be
democracy in the Arab world is a type of racism," he said.
Left-wingers in Israel have accused him of issuing his demands for
democratisation in the Arab world to avoid peacemaking. Right-wingers
see him as a potential sell-out.
Sharansky says he is merely loyal to his ideals that the world would
benefit if everyone, everywhere enjoyed freedom.
"It´s so out of touch with reality, they believe," said Sharansky,
who sees himself a dissident, going against the tide.
Sharansky does not spare criticism for the United States, saying it
tried to appease countries such as Saddam Hussein´s Iraq and Saudi
Arabia. Washington, he said, should have linked relations and aid
with improved human rights and democracy.
He acknowledged Bush faced an uphill battle for democracy in the face
of the "realpolitik" that drives foreign policy. His advise to Bush,
ignore the sceptics and stick to your ideals.
"Dissidents are always alone ... You can only hope the logic of
history is on your side. That is what happened in the Soviet Union
and that is what I hope will happen in the Middle East." (© Reuters
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