- Note - For a far different view of Sharansky, listen
to Jeff's 1-31-5 interview with Israeli journalist Barry Chamish in our
program Archives. -ed
- 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 democratize the world is no less than President
- 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 mathematician.
- "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 ... summarizes 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.
- 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."
- 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
- The gist of Sharansky's view is that the "free world"
should encourage countries to democratize 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 skeptical
about Sharansky's view.
- "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.
- 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.
- His advice to Bush is to ignore skeptics 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."