Natan Sharansky

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Around a year ago I received a letter from my alma mater: the Soviet gulag, where I spent nine years after being convicted of anti-Soviet activity, high treason and espionage, and from which I graduated in 1986. The letter was sent by Alexei Navalny from a shtrafnoy izolyator, or “shizo” for short, the most extreme type of punishment cell in the gulag. He told me he was reading my book, “Fear No Evil”, and was surprised by the similarity of our experiences.

In my nine years in prison I spent 405 days in shizo, a kind of torture by cold and hunger.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, left, and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right. (Natalia Kolesnikova; Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

In the long line of people who have been victims of Soviet and Russian dictators, Alexei Navalny was extraordinary. He dedicated himself to unmasking the cynical, corrupt nature of Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship. And he succeeded, revealing the truth to the world.

He was so dedicated to exposing the nature of Putin’s regime that he chose to return to Russia to force his would-be murderers to make their villainy public. In going back, he showed the people of Russia and the world that he was not afraid — and that neither should they be afraid to act.

In a letter he wrote to one of us from prison, Navalny stated that the “virus” of freedom will never be killed and that hundreds of thousands of people will continue to fight for freedom and against the war in Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israeli troops near the town of Sderot, in southern Israel, on Sunday. (Baz Ratner for The Washington Post)

More than two decades ago, during the second intifada waged by Palestinian terrorists against Israel, I asked the then-executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, why his organization concentrated much of its energy on criticizing Israel. At the time, Human Rights Watch was publishing report after report depicting the Middle East’s only democracy as a sponsor of war crimes and willful violator of international law, while saying little about Middle East dictatorships and even less about the terrorists murdering Israeli civilians. Why the grossly disproportionate response?

Roth answered that his organization demanded more from democracies than from dictatorships and more from states than from non-state actors, even those that target innocents.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev makes his Nobel Peace Prize award acceptance speech in the Oslo City Hall on June 5, 1991 (Olav Olsen/AFP via Getty Images)

Mikhail Gorbachev, who died at 91, was the last leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a post he held for only a few short years, from 1985 to 1991. During his final speech, he expressed regret that the U.S.S.R. had fallen apart, but also emphasized his personal achievements, including the promotion of political and religious freedom, the introduction of democracy and a market economy, and, of course, the end of the Cold War.

All politicians boast of their achievements when they conclude their terms in office. In this case, however, what Gorbachev said was not a boast, but rather an understatement.…  Seguir leyendo »

Andrei Sakharov in Moscow in 1973. Credit Associated Press

Fifty years ago this Sunday, this paper devoted three broadsheet pages to an essay that had been circulating secretly in the Soviet Union for weeks. The manifesto, written by Andrei Sakharov, championed an essential idea at grave risk today: that those of us lucky enough to live in open societies should fight for the freedom of those born into closed ones. This radical argument changed the course of history.

Sakharov’s essay carried a mild title — “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” — but it was explosive. “Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of mankind by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships,” he wrote.…  Seguir leyendo »

Elie Wiesel in New York in 2012. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Perhaps better than anyone else of our age, Elie Wiesel grasped the terrible power of silence. He understood that the failure to speak out, about both the horrors of the past and the evils of the present, is one of the most effective ways there is to perpetuate suffering and empower those who inflict it.

Wiesel therefore made it his life’s mission to ensure that silence would not prevail. First, he took the courageous and painful step of recounting the Holocaust, bringing it to public attention in a way that no one else before him had done. His harrowing chronicle “Night,” originally titled “And the World Remained Silent,” forced readers to confront that most awful of human events — to remember it, to talk about it, to make it part of their daily lives.…  Seguir leyendo »

Men walk through a damaged area after what activists said were at least 20 air strikes by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the Douma neighbourhood of Damascus February 5, 2015. (Bassam Khabieh/Reuters)

Recently leaders of the free world flocked to Saudi Arabia to meet with the new king , where they praised the country as a partner for peace and center of stability. But many dissidents disagreed. As Mansour Al-Hadj, a liberal activist who lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, said: “Saudi Arabia is not stable. Deep down, people are not happy. Sooner or later, the winds of change will come to Saudi Arabia. The regime will fall.”

If history is any judge, the world should bet on the dissidents, not the diplomats.

On Jan. 25, 2011, just two weeks before the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, then-U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Israeli soldiers take up positions close to the Israeli border with Gaza srtip , 22 July 2014. (Abir Sultan/EPA)

The pictures of destruction and mourning in Gaza that have filled media around the world for the past several weeks have been very painful and sad to view. One would be hard-pressed to find an Israeli who does not sympathize with the suffering of Gaza’s victims.

Yet there are also few Israelis who feel we are responsible for this suffering. For us, the tragedy of Gaza is inseparable from the tragedy of the entire Middle East. Over the past three years, in countries around our tiny state, more than a quarter of a million people have been killed in the most horrific ways.…  Seguir leyendo »

Did Syria and Israel conduct secret talks in 2010 about a possible peace treaty involving a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights? Recent news items — aimed at influencing Israel’s January elections — assert as much. But such discussions, usually secret and indirect, were going on for a long time.

In the four successive Israeli governments in which I served from 1996 to 2005, proposals were floated for giving up the Golan, or most of it, in exchange for peace with the dictatorial Syrian regime. As a rule, right-leaning governments stressed the need for Israel to maintain a position on top of the cliffs overlooking the Sea of Galilee, while left-leaning ones were prepared to settle for a few hundred feet of land along the eastern shore.…  Seguir leyendo »

The results of the recent parliamentary elections in Egypt and the harsh scenes of soldiers beating protesters this weekend have fueled a new round of anxiety in the West over the direction of the Arab Spring. Hopes raised to a fever pitch by the events of January and February have suffered a crushing blow. Observing the victory of the Islamist parties last month, liberals’ miserable showing and the military’s determination to maintain an iron grip, some ask whether the end of Egyptian democracy is already in sight. Others are asking whether democracy, “our” Western heritage, is really for “them.”

These are the wrong questions, and the attitude behind them, if encapsulated in policy, will ensure the return of dictatorship or worse.…  Seguir leyendo »

How many protesters must a regime murder before it is no longer fit for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council? How many thousands of dissidents must it jail? How many acts of international terrorism must it instigate?

The line is invisible — but Syria, having too openly crossed it, has now been forced to vacate its candidacy in the May 20 elections to the council.

It is good that Syria has been removed, just as it is good that Libya has been suspended from membership.

But what was Muammar el-Qaddafi’s blood-soaked regime doing on a human-rights body in the first place?…  Seguir leyendo »

Thirty-five years ago, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the world’s pre-eminent peace prize to the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

In the weeks following the announcement, Sakharov’s name became the object of obsessive derision in the Soviet Union on television, in newspapers, in statements by “representatives of the working class” and in all other outlets through which the regime made known the unanimous “will of the people.”

During those difficult days, I took a taxi to Sakharov’s summer home 30 minutes outside Moscow. The cab driver drove a hard bargain, took his money and we got underway. It was only on the way back that he realized whom I had visited and began to grow agitated and impatient to release his passenger.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the free world tries to formulate an effective response to Russia's recent incursion into Georgia, the focus understandably remains on how to ensure the withdrawal of troops from Russia's democratic southern neighbor. But policymakers might want to consider for a moment how we got to this point.

The situation in Georgia is the culmination of a failed post-Cold War policy toward Russia. Central to this failure has been ignoring the inherent connection between internal freedom and external aggression. As democracy was rolled back within Russia, the world abandoned an approach that had been so effective during the later stages of the Cold War, when relations with the Kremlin were linked to the expansion of freedom inside the Soviet Union.…  Seguir leyendo »