Friday, December 17, 2004

Sharansky Interview

Front Page Magazine has an interview with Natan Sharansky, a former Gulag-imprisoned Soviet dissident who believes in the transforming power of freedom. Freedom for all people, even those in Arab dictatorships.

Of course, it also helps to be able to see the lighter side of life, even in the most difficult hours. I especially liked telling anti-Soviet jokes to my interrogators. I remember one time I told a joke about Brezhnev being furious when Americans succeeded at putting a man on the moon. After emergency discussions with other members of the Politburo, he assembled all the cosmonauts. "We have decided to beat the Americans by sending a man to the sun," declared Brezhnev." "But Comrade Leonid," replied one cosmonaut, "we will be burned alive." "What? You think we at the Politburo are idiots" shouted Brezhnev, "We have considered everything. You will be sent at night."

My interrogators were ready to burst from laughter, but they would not dare laugh in front of another KGB agent at such a joke, so they pounded on the table and shouted at me. I told these jokes not only to irritate my interrogators - which of course was always a source of pleasure - but also to remind myself who is really free and who is really in a prison -- the interrogator who cannot even laugh when he wants to or you, who is free to think what you want, say what you want and laugh when you want. It helps remind you why you are really there and why you will never want to return to the life of doublethink and fear.

I guess it also helps to have a hobby that is compatible with prison life, and my hobby was chess. I played thousands of games in my head and guess what - I always won.

FP: We are running out of time Mr. Sharansky. Before we finish, let me just sneak in a brief comment.

This interview has a special significance for me. I am the son of Soviet dissidents, Yuri and Marina Glazov. My dad signed the Letter of Twelve, which denounced Soviet human rights abuses and my mom actively typed and circulated Samizdat - the underground political literature. We were very fortunate to escape the vicious barbarity of what Soviet terror had in store for us.

You are an individual who is very close to my heart. Throughout my whole childhood I listened to your name being spoken at my family’s dinner table – and it was a name that demanded respect and admiration. My dad and mom spoke very highly of you and closely followed your trials and tribulations. I remember how much we all cheered in front of our television that day when you zig-zagged walking across that bridge during the exchange that freed you from your Soviet captors and tormentors. My whole family had tears in their eyes.

And you zig-zagged because the KGB had told you to walk straight. Despite all the suffering you experienced you remained a warrior to the last second, achieving victory – a single human being against an entire totalitarian regime. That last counter-punch of resistance represented so much to all of us – it inspired and continues to inspire human hope and the unquenchable thirst for freedom and liberty that resides in the heart of man.

No comments: