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Peace Will Only Come after Freedom and Democracy By Natan

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 4:26 pm    Post subject: Peace Will Only Come after Freedom and Democracy By Natan Reply with quote

Natan Sharansky: "Peace Will Only Come after Freedom and Democracy"

Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2005

Natan Sharansky is among the world's most consistent advocates of democratization as a basis for foreign policy. Born in Ukraine in 1948, he received a degree in mathematics from Moscow's Physical Technical Institute. A brilliant mathematician and chess master, he entered the limelight as a spokesman for the movement to emancipate Soviet Jewry. Arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1977 for his refusenik activities, he was sentenced to thirteen years imprisonment. President Ronald Reagan interceded and, in 1986, won Sharansky's release as part of an East-West prisoner exchange. In his 1988 autobiography Fear No Evil,[1] he discussed both his emotional resistance to surrender in the face of KGB interrogation and also his quest to explore his Jewish roots.

Freed from Soviet imprisonment, Sharansky received a hero's welcome in Israel. Dedicating himself as an activist for free Soviet emigration, he became increasingly active among Israel's Russian immigrant population. In 1995, he founded Yisrael B'Aliyah in order to represent this important demographic. He subsequently served in a number of positions, including minister of industry and trade, minister of housing and construction and, most recently, as deputy prime minister. He is currently minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs in the cabinet of Ariel Sharon. His new book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror,[2] was published in November 2004. On November 11, President George W. Bush invited Sharansky to the Oval Office for an hour-long discussion of the book.[3] Sam Spector, research analyst at the Long-Term Strategy Project, interviewed him in Jerusalem by telephone on November 24, 2004.

Democracy and Freedom
Middle East Quarterly: At the Republican National Convention, on September 2, 2004, President Bush said "freedom is on the march" in the Middle East.[4] Do you agree?

Natan Sharansky: Freedom definitely has a much better chance to succeed today than some years or even some months ago. For freedom to succeed, not only must people throughout the Middle East desire freedom, but there needs to be solidarity from the outer world and, also, a readiness to link foreign policy to human rights and support for dissent.

MEQ: What can the United States do to support dissidents in the Middle East and elsewhere?

Sharansky: Washington should replicate the success of its policy toward the Soviet Union. The first nail in the coffin of the Soviet dictatorship was the Jackson-Vanek amendment [of 1973], which linked trade to emigration rights. The Helsinki agreement [of 1975] further enshrined human rights in international relations. In the 1980s, President Reagan stood firm on human rights, emboldening myself and other dissidents in our fight against dictatorship. Washington should adopt similar policies to aid dissidents in Arab countries.

MEQ: Pundits and European governments criticized President Bush for the crudeness of his "Axis of Evil" reference.[5] How important is rhetoric?

Sharansky: The world is full of doublethink. What it most lacks is moral clarity. It is extremely important to call a spade a spade. It is necessary to understand the nature of the war that we are in the midst of. The battle is not between Israel and the Palestinians or between the United States and Iraq. Rather, the current fight pits the world of freedom against the world of terror. I have told President Bush that the two greatest speeches of my lifetime were Ronald Reagan's speech casting the Soviet Union as an evil empire and the president's own speech on June 24, 2002, when he said that Palestinians deserve to live in freedom and that only with freedom would the Middle East enjoy security.[6]

MEQ: Do you believe that your conversations and writings have influenced Bush?

Sharansky: The reason for my meeting with the president was because he was reading my book, and he wanted to discuss it. There is no doubt that the president's statements at his press conference [with British prime minister Tony Blair][7] were similar to my ideas. I was very happy to hear the president say that freedom is not something that was given to America but rather it is a gift from God to all mankind. I feel very strongly that peace will only come after freedom and democracy. These are the ideas for which I have been fighting all my life, and these are the ideas to which I believe the president is going to devote the next four years.

MEQ: How would you characterize Bush's approach to the challenges facing the free world?

Sharansky: I told the President, "You don't look like a politician. You look like a real dissident, because politicians always look at what polls say, but you believe in democracy and freedom … Even when your colleagues in Europe tell you that democracy is impossible, you go ahead with it. You are a real dissident."

MEQ: Do you see parallels between events today and your own experience as a political dissident in the 1970s and 1980s?

Sharansky: I have a story in my book about how we dissidents celebrated the day when President Reagan called the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire." We saw the Soviet Union as a rotten, weak society, liable to fall apart quickly, if only the West stopped supporting it. The first step in the Soviet Union's demise would be the West's enunciation of the true nature of the [Soviet] state. When Ronald Reagan, the leader of the free world, called a spade a spade and defined the roots of the struggle, the Soviet Union was doomed. And that's what happened. The same thing applies today. We are speaking about a struggle between the world in which human life is the highest priority and those societies that treat human life with disdain and hold their citizens hostage in an attempt to blackmail civilization.

MEQ: Why has dictatorship flourished for so long in the Middle East?

Sharansky: For too long the free world has been willing to appease dictatorships. The United States is no longer willing to accept a policy of appeasement [toward Middle Eastern dictators]. [Washington's] willingness to coddle dictators has been the main obstacle to dissent in the Arab world.

MEQ: Can't strongmen bring stability?

Sharansky: The more resolute the free world is in not appeasing dictators, the less often it will have to use military power. If you look at the history of struggle between democracies and dictatorships, you will see that outright war is almost always preceded by a period of appeasement. This was the case with both Hitler and Stalin. In the Middle East, Palestinian violence and terror followed a period of appeasement. In Iraq, too, a decade of appeasement emboldened Saddam Hussein and contributed to war. We would not have had this problem in Iraq if the free world had not once thought that Saddam Hussein was good for stability. Had the United States and the West linked their foreign policies to basic human rights, not one shot would need to have been fired in Iraq.

MEQ: Where might Washington better link its policies to human rights?

Sharansky: Many places. Take Egypt, for example. The United States sometimes expresses sympathy for Egyptian dissidents, but Washington's word would mean more if it drew linkages between dissident rights and the $2 billion in foreign aid it gives Egypt each year. Likewise, in the case of the Palestinian Authority, American support for Palestinian dissidents hasn't gone much past rhetoric.

MEQ: Do you see progress for democracy in the Middle East?

Sharansky: There is progress today in the Middle East because the most dangerous regime, that of Saddam Hussein, has been removed. Saddam Hussein's Iraq gave legitimacy to terrorist groups across the Middle East. Saddam's was a regime that used human life to break the will of the free world. That the West allowed Saddam's regime to continue to hold his people hostage for so many years, encouraged dictators and terrorists worldwide, and discouraged potential dissidents within Iraqi society. But today the situation has changed. The death of [Yasir] Arafat also creates new possibilities.

The Palestinians after Arafat
MEQ: How strong is the will for political change among the Palestinians?

Sharansky: Whenever people are given an opportunity not to live in constant fear, not to live a life of doublethink, they choose freedom. If given the opportunity, the Palestinians can progress toward democracy. They have a strong middle class. They have special business opportunities in the free world. Palestinians are adroit observers of Israel and understand the functioning of democracy. The Palestinian diaspora is well educated. All of these factors provide hope for a speedier transition. There is no doubt that the change of leadership resulting from Arafat's passing creates opportunities. Whether Palestinians seize these opportunities is another question.

MEQ: In The Case for Democracy you write that "Palestinians, like every people, are capable of building a free society."[8] Does Israel have any role or responsibility to help create the conditions for a free Palestinian society?

Sharansky: Israel has a special interest in Palestinian democracy because only with democratic development among Palestinians and in the Arab world will Israel enjoy peace and stability. We can complain as much as we want about the lack of freedom and the lack of democracy among the Palestinians and other neighbors, but we should never forget our role. Israel and other nations in the free world tried to turn a Palestinian dictatorship into a partner. Many Israeli and American policymakers thought that a Palestinian dictatorship would bring stability. We were not ready to support any form of dissent in the Arab world and among the Palestinians because we believed it would weaken the Palestinian Authority and any chance for peace. Israel, the United States, and other free nations need to realize that they can play a very positive role, but that their choices can also be harmful for democracy.

MEQ: You also wrote that free elections can only take place in an atmosphere devoid of fear and only after the basic institutions that protect a free society—such as a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, and political parties—are firmly in place. Can the Palestinian Authority elections meet these criteria?

Sharansky: We should have no illusions that the elections that will take place in January [2005] will have anything to do with democracy. Elections that are not free, that are not held in a free society have nothing to do with democracy.

MEQ: Are Palestinian elections at all worthwhile?

Sharansky: Elections are worthwhile, but casting votes in and of itself is not enough. Democracy can only start when the new leadership selected in these elections embraces reform. A lot depends on our policy. If we embrace a leadership that embraces reform, or if we refuse to give any legitimacy or support to a leadership that refuses to bring democracy and reform, then there is a serious chance for success. In the upcoming Palestinian election, different faction heads will decide the candidates in advance. Voters will not really have the freedom to express their opinions. The leadership selection has nothing to do with democracy, but it is important that this selection take place as soon as possible.

MEQ: What should happen then?

Sharansky: We should not pay too much attention to who will be the next Palestinian leader, but we should pay attention to what we demand of this leader. The first steps towards democracy will be after elections and not before.

MEQ: Is your opposition to the Gaza disengagement plan a matter of principle, or are you concerned over its practical implementation?

Sharansky: Questions of principle and practical matters are always connected for me. I was against the disengagement plan not because I believed we should stay in Gaza but because one-sided concessions could transform Gaza into a beachhead for a terrorist state. If a Palestinian democracy developed, then a Palestinian state would not be dangerous. As I said many years ago, it is very important that the depth of our concessions match the depth of democracy on the other side. If disengagement were linked to democratic reforms, I would be all for this plan. But I object to any plan that leaves territory for terror.

[1] New York: Random House, 1988.
[2] New York: PublicAffairs, 2004.
[3] The Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2004.
[4] White House news release, Sept. 2, 2004.
[5] State of the Union address, Jan. 29, 2002.
[6] "President Bush Calls for New Palestinian Leadership," White House news release, June 24, 2002.
[7] White House news release, Nov. 12, 2004.
[8] Sharansky, The Case for Democracy, p. xxv.

This item is available on the Middle East Forum website, at http://www.meforum.org/article/666
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 5:02 pm    Post subject: The Dissident: An Interview With Natan Sharansky Reply with quote

The Dissident: An Interview With Natan Sharansky

News: The Israeli minister talks about Arab dissidents, Israel’s human rights record, and the prospects for a democratic Middle East.

Interviewed By Nonna Gorilovskaya

March 30, 2005


Natan Sharansky is used to disagreeing with governments. After all, the former Soviet dissident spent 9 years in prison on charges of treason—a crime then punishable by death—for his human rights advocacy work. But things are quite different nowadays, and Sharansky's new book, The Case for Democracy, has found no less of an enthusiast than President George W. Bush. The book's premise is simple: the world is divided between "free" and "fear" societies, and free societies won’t be secure until fear societies become free. Because those who rule by fear will always need external enemies to keep their populations under control, Sharansky argues, promoting democracy is a matter of security, not just of lofty humanitarian motives.

On the day Sharansky and I met, March 14th, more than 800,000 Lebanese were rallying in Beirut, calling for Syrian withdrawal. Sharansky’s eyes grew with excitement as he cited the Beirut demonstration—the largest in Lebanon's history—as proof that democracy was at last spreading throughout Israel’s neighborhood. Like Bush, he insists that democracy is for everyone. It is for the Russians. It is for the Arabs.

At home in Israel, where he is currently the Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, Sharansky is no dove. He was a fierce critic of the Oslo Accords and scoffs at the unofficial Geneva Accord, arguing that they failed to link Israeli concessions with Palestinian ones, like democratization. As Housing Minister in Ariel Sharon’s first government, he oversaw the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In his present position, meanwhile, Sharansky has chaired a secret committee that approved the seizure of East Jerusalem property of West Bank Palestinians, a decision which was reversed after an outcry from the Israeli left and the international community.

But Sharansky doesn't get much love from the Israeli right, which has little patience for his talk about the virtues of Arab democracy. Neither, for that matter, does the Israeli left, which wants peace as soon as possible with whatever sort of Palestinian state is willing to strike a deal. Some lefties wonder if Sharansky is simply using the banner of human rights to insure the indefinite occupation of the territories. Meanwhile, both lefties and moderate right-wingers frowned on his vote against the Gaza disengagement plan.

Sharansky insists that he is neither of the right nor the left and that his commitment to democracy and human rights has not changed since his dissident days. He argues that the free world has been slow to recognize that it was the power of its ideas and diplomatic pressure which brought down tyranny in the Soviet Union, and that the same can happen in the Arab world. Sitting down with MotherJones.com, Sharansky talked about Arab dissidents, Israel’s human rights record, and why he is optimistic about a democratic Middle East.

MotherJones.com: In your book, you distinguish between free and fear societies. Why did you choose this distinction as opposed to the democratic vs. non-democratic ones?

Natan Sharansky: Well, "democracy" is a vague term, and usually when people try to define it, they speak about different institutions which have to be built and developed within a society in order to be called democratic, institutions which protect the rights of individuals. Then there is a debate over whether this or that particular institution is appropriate or not.

But I believe that if we look at the real differences that divide various societies, it is a question of fear—whether people are controlled by fear in that society or they are controlled by laws which protect them from arbitrariness. I've lived in a fear society, and I know how important the transformation from living in fear to living without fear is. This distinction helps to understand why, when given the choice, people in the world choose to live in freedom and not in fear.

MJ: You oppose President George Bush's "road map" and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan, arguing that like the Oslo Accords, they won't help foster a free Palestinian society. What's your reasoning here?

NS: Well, I'm not opposed to the idea that Israel should make very serious concessions and stop controlling the lives of the other people. But I am opposed to the current peace process plans because they are not based on introducing democratic reforms—that is, concessions from Israel are not linked to the question of democratic reforms on the other side.

MJ: You've felt that the recent Palestinian and Iraqi elections were premature. How do you judge their outcomes?

NS: I didn't say they were premature, I said that you cannot call them democratic just yet, because democracy means both free democratic elections and a free democratic society. Right now, there isn't a free democratic society inside the Palestinian Authority, or in Iraq. Still, these were very important elections as a first step. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis chose to go to the polling stations, knowing that they could have been killed, shows how great the desire is of people who have suffered in fear to move ahead to a free society. So, if we see these elections as the end of a democratic process by itself, then it's a major mistake. But if we see them as something which gives those countries the opportunity to start an important process, then they should definitely be welcomed.

MJ: Some may people may see your prerequisite of a free Palestinian society for Palestinian statehood as setting the bar too high and say: "well, this is a way to insure Israeli occupation indefinitely."

NS: Well, first of all, I don't say that it's a precondition. I think the two have to develop in parallel. But those who are saying: "Let's first have a Palestinian state, let's first have stability, let's have first have leaders who have full control of the situation, and then we'll talk about democracy," that's exactly how Oslo appeared, that's exactly how the free world has been appeasing dictators. Stability is most easily brought by dictators, but that's only in the short-run. In the long-run, these dictators are bringing you war.

So, for example, if we are talking about disengagement: When Israel leaves Gaza, I want to be sure that Palestinians who live in Gaza will stop living in refugee camps, that they will be able to begin to move into decent conditions, that the education for hatred in Gaza's schools will be stopped, that free enterprise will prosper, and that dissent will be permitted. That's what has to start to happening in Gaza, so that we can be sure that from the moment Israel loses control of Gaza, it will begin to turn into a democratic society, rather than a terrorist state.

MJ: Another criticism of you is that as Housing Minister in Ariel Sharon's first government, you participated in the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And many people say: "Well, how can one promote a democratic Palestinian state while at the same time supporting settlements which Palestinians see as an impediment to that state?"

NS: Well, look, Palestinians see the strengthening of Jewish settlements as an impediment, and some Israelis see the strengthening of the Palestinian Authority as an impediment. But the truth is that if you really want to live in peace, with two democratic societies—Palestinian and Israeli—these must be societies where people can live without fear. And here's something that's strange. The whole world expects that Arabs should be able to live peacefully in Israeli territory—and as you know 17 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs. At the same time, the world also expects that Jews should leave the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority, because those Jews will be killed there. That, from the beginning, shows that the world expects very different things from these two types of societies.

I never saw the legitimate strengthening of the Jewish community in the territories under discussion as an obstacle to peace. Israel has showed many times that, as soon as there is any hope for peace, we will make all sorts of concessions. The last example of this was Ehud Barak. But if we're making these concessions, I want to make sure that we have a reliable partner first, a partner who is also ready to take those concessions, for the sake of peace.

MJ: Israel has peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, which have held, even though neither state is a democracy, why wouldn't the same be true for an undemocratic Palestinian state?

NS: First of all, we want to have peace with everybody, whether they are a democracy or not. But the difference is that with democracy you can have peace that you can rely on. For leaders of democratic states, war is always the last option, but when you have peace with a non-democracy, you have to rely on the strength of your military to enforce it. So we have peace with Egypt backed by a treaty, but also peace with Syria without a treaty. In both cases, it's because we can rely on the strength of our army. Peace with the Palestinians, however, will not come with their state safely behind the Sinai. The new state will be in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In this case, it's much more difficult for Israel to rely on the strength of its army to enforce peace, so we need a partner we can trust and rely on, a democratic partner.

One more word about Egypt. What's interesting about our agreement with Egypt is that Egypt got a lot out of it: the territories, financial support, weapons from Americans, and so on. But it lost something very important to the government: It lost Israel as enemy. And for a dictatorial regime, an outside enemy is something that helps the regime survive. So they lost us as a political enemy, but then in the last twenty years they emerged as the new anti-Semitic center in the world. The country prints more anti-Semitic literature, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, than any other Arab country, and that's a direct result of the fact that Egypt is not a democracy. When they lost us as a political enemy, they still needed us as a national enemy, so now they're becoming the center of anti-Semitism.

There is something that gives me hope for our future relations with Egypt, though—and it's not just the fact that they didn't try to violate the peace treaty for the past twenty years. That was only because they were weak and Israel was strong. No, the thing that gives me hope is the fact that now there are new demonstrations in Egypt, now the dissidents are raising their voice, and they see the support of the United States, they see that this regime has to start maneuvering. So I believe there is a serious chance that Egypt will become more and more of a free society. And the freer it is, the more reliable Israel's peace treaty with Egypt will be.

MJ: If Israel doesn't start withdrawing from the territories, within a few decades, it will have a Palestinian majority within its borders. Many Israelis worry that this will mean the end of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. Does that worry you?

NS: It worries me, but I'm optimistic. I believe that there is no reason why, in the next 20, 30, 40 years, there will still be dictatorial regimes controlling the lives of Arab people in this region, including Palestinians. And I do believe that democratic changes can happen in the next one, two, three years in Palestine, exactly as they can happen in Iraq and many other countries. And the more democratic the society will be, the more generous we can be in our concessions and we can finally end our control of the lives of other people.

MJ: You argue that the West has much more leverage over Arab regimes than it did over the Soviet Union, but at the same time, that Arab dissidents have gotten much less support than you and other Soviet dissidents did. Why do you think that is the case?

NS: Well, look, in the case of Soviet Union it was also a long process. Unfortunately, for Western democracies, when they deal with dictatorial regimes, their first response is to appease those regimes. That's the flip side of the democracy advantage. It's true that war is always the last choice for leaders elected by popular vote, but that also means appeasing dictators is always their first choice. And in the case of the Soviet Union, it took time for the U.S. to understand and hear the voice of Soviet dissidents. Only when the free world started caring about the fate of dissidents, the number of dissidents started increasing, and they were able to continue their activities in relative safety.

The idea that democracy would never come to the people of Russia and Ukraine because they didn't want it was once very popular in the West. We had to overcome this prejudice. Now, today, again there is a prejudice that democracy has nothing to do with the Arabs, that their tradition is different, and so on. And that many leaders of the free world should try to appease dictators, to be friendly with them and guarantee their stability. As a result, they're trying to hear the voices of dictators and not the voices of dissidents.

The situation started changing, though, from the moment the leader of the free world started speaking to dissidents in the Arab world, started supporting them. And today, nobody could say, as only some months ago you might hear, that there are no dissidents in the Arab world. Just an hour ago, I got another telegram about the biggest, democratic demonstrations in the history of the Middle East which are happening now in Beirut, in Egypt, in other places. So, that is the power of freedom to overcome tyranny and terror, which is what I am talking about in my book.

MJ: Israel is often criticized by human rights organizations for violations of Palestinian human rights. As a human rights activist, which Israeli policies worry you and which do you feel have been unfairly attacked?

NS: Well, first of all, every restriction on human rights, however justified, worries me. I do understand that during times of war, free countries have to bring some restrictions. For example, Israel today makes a lot of administrative arrests. But it still worries me, of course: every arrest runs the potential danger of restricting freedoms in society, of undermining those democratic institutions which guarantee the rights of citizens. At the same time, that is war. And when I compare the record of Israel in a time of war with any other country, including America, including European countries, I can see that our record is by far better, by far. I don't have to remind you what happened in America when it started war with Iraq, what happened with administrative arrests, for example. I don't have to remind you that in Israel, the Supreme Court can interfere ub a battle within 24 hours, something that doesn't happen either in America or Europe.

So, yes, practical every restriction on freedom which Israel has introduced worries me, and I prefer that they be as limited as possible and removed as soon as possible. But I understand the needs of a state during wartime. I am the minister for Jerusalem, where there were 27 suicide bombings. I have to guarantee the security of our citizens. So the army comes and says there are three options: Use airplanes and tanks against those cities from which suicide bombers are coming, which would mean thousands of Palestinians killed; or Israel could encircle the city with the troops; or we could build a fence. We chose to build a fence, and it drew protests from human rights organizations. Then our own Supreme Court studied the complaints of hundreds of people, Arabs and Jews, and said: "Here we permit construction, here we don't permit construction," and we accepted the decision.

But here I have to say that my biggest dispute with many human rights organizations, and I write about this in my book, is that they're trying to take the issue of human rights and abstract it, and separate it from the type of regimes you're dealing with. The result is that many dictatorial regimes use the banner of human rights to pressure democracies, which helps to decrease pressure on their own regimes. And that is my problem. Those who want to succeed in the struggle for human rights cannot say that these sorts of regimes are not their business. They can't say they don't care whether a state is a fear society or a free society. If they do, they will always be used by dictators who keep their own people in fear for their struggle against free societies.

MJ: What specific steps would you like to see U.S. and Israel take to promote democracy in the Middle East?

NS: Well, I think, the main steps are already in action. American and Israeli leaders have only to believe that democracy is possible. Everybody agrees that there must be some major, material contribution to help Palestinians to build their society. It must be clear that this contribution, this assistance, this legitimacy which is given to the Palestinian Authority will be given only if they themselves give economic freedom to their people, permit dissent, make sure that they're improving the difficult conditions in which their people are living, start dismantling refugee camps and stop inciting hatred in the schools. In general, for the Middle East, I think what is important is that the leaders of the free world see that their allies are the dissidents who are concerned with status of freedom in their countries, rather than the dictators who are concerned with keeping their own people under control. And if the message of the free world is clear and strong, the changes will happen very quickly.

Nonna Gorilovskaya is a freelance writer reporting from Jerusalem, and a former editorial fellow at Mother Jones.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 5:17 pm    Post subject: The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom By Sharansky Reply with quote

Dear Fellow ActivistChat Members,

Strongly recommend to read "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, By Natan Sharansky [2] was published in November 11, 2004."
This book is in complete agreement with how many ActivistChat members feel.
Mr. Natan Sharansky is a faithful student of Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was a Soviet physicist who became, in the words of the Nobel Peace Committee, a spokesman for the conscience of mankind.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 10, 2005 11:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Cyrus,

This is a little off-topic, but I meant to post this awhile back when you posted the Sakharov article. In any case, here's this year's winner:

Press Statement
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 27, 2005

Cuba’s “Damas de Blanco” Wins 2005 Sakharov Prize

The United States congratulates the Damas de Blanco of Cuba, on being awarded the 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament.

Damas de Blanco have held peaceful protests every Sunday since the March 2003 dissident crackdown on their husbands and sons, the majority of whom remain imprisoned in Cuba. Despite regular harassment and abuse by the Castro security forces, the Ladies in White peacefully and nonviolently demonstrate the enduring freedom-loving spirit of the Cuban people. They vow to continue their silent protests until the release of all of the 75 dissidents arrested in the March 2003 crackdown by the Castro regime.

The United States calls on the Castro regime to release all prisoners of conscience.
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