Friday, September 09, 2005

This Time, We Did the Right Thing

After five years of hearing everyone bad mouth the US, after being disillusioned myself due to the police state we seem to be heading toward, and especially after the bickering about whose fault what was down South, it was a pleasure to get my hands on the July 1978 Issue of TIME.

I don't read TIME these days; gave up around the same time as I learned that you can't really solve problems by throwing money at them and that "do-gooders" do more harm then good with their social welfare policies. But I was cruising around one of my favorite Russian propaganda sites when I found a cache of what must be every TIME to have a Russian on the cover, from Vladimir Lenin to Vladimir Putin. Smack dab in the middle was this one of Natan Sharansky (then Anatoli Shcharansky). You can read for yourself a bit of Sharansky's story a few entries below; basically, he was a "refusenik" in Russia--a Jew not permitted to emigrate--who brought international attention to his cause and others through his activism. He was tried and sentenced as a CIA spy; and sent to 13 years in the Gulag. After an early release, where he was exchanged for a real spy, Sharansky moved to Israel and became an influential member of the Prime Minister's cabinet. He quit his job with the government this spring in protest of the Gaza Strip removal of settlers.

But back to 1978. I Googled the magazine issue, and found someone selling it at a pretty fair rate. I got it in my hands today.

What a time that was...everyone was talking about "de'tente" and should we say this or that for fear the Russians would take it the wrong way. Andy Young was shooting his mouth off about "hundreds of thousands" of mythical political prisoners here when interviewed about Sharansky's case.

But the good news was...people got angry about those things! Even TIME criticized Young's remarks. And printed Soviet citizens' views, such as that of Sharansky's mother, that the more pressure we placed on the Kremlin, the better it was for her son, for her family, and for all those whose freedoms were curtailed.

In particular, Jimmy Carter referred to Anatoli Sharanski by name in several public speeches, calling him a political prisoner and demanding his release. Jimmy Carter! Yeah, the malaise guy! Communists apparently got under his feathers enough that he actually said something strong, if not actually doing something.

Luckily, in this case, "saying things" helped. Sharansky notes throughout his book definite differences in the way he was treated that corresponded with news he got from fellow zeks just entering the prisons or even, at at times, with Pravda, about Western speeches. He couldn't have his wife's picture; then suddenly he had his wife's picture. He would be moved from hard labor to stuff less likely to break his back. Finally, of course, he was released 2 years early, although the Soviets called it "banishment" and made sure to announce to him that he was being punished by being kicked out of the USSR. Thus, Sharansky even had a good, hearty laugh as he stepped through the Iron Curtain.

Of course, this was also after Reagan had been making references to him in his Presidential conferences and speeches. Which was most certainly more effective.

But it's nice to remember that, once upon a time, Carter and the people like him were on our side.

No comments :