When Sharansky was released from the Gulag in a prisoner exchange engineered by the Reagan administration in 1986, he shared with Reagan the story of 'the beautiful moment' when the news of Reagan's Evil Empire speech echoed in the Soviet gulag. He told Reagan of the 'brilliant day' when the Pravda or Izvestia article found its way into their prison. The instant they heard of that Evil Empire speech, the 'whole block burst out into a kind of loud celebration' in the knowledge that 'the world was about to change.' Not forever could they be chained in darkness, unjustly!
Sharansky said that when he shared this story with Reagan, Reagan jumped out of his chair 'like a shot,' and 'lit up like a schoolboy.' Reagan started calling for his aides to come and hear what Sharansky had to say. Sharansky comments:
It was really only then that I started to appreciate that it wasn't just in the Soviet Union that President Reagan must have suffered terrible abuse for this great speech, but that he must have been hurt at home too. It seemed as though our moment of joy was the moment of his own vindication. That the great punishment he had endured for this speech was worth it.
Joel Rosenberg puts that Sharansky moment in context, with Sharansky's meeting last week in the Oval Office with President Bush. Echoing the Reagan language, here is Sharansky's account of what he told President Bush:
I told the president, 'There is a great difference between politicians and dissidents. Politicians are focused on polls and the press. They are constantly making compromises. But dissidents focus on ideas. They have a message burning inside of them. They would stand up for their convictions no matter what the consequences.'Food for thought: what does it mean to be a dissident?
I told the president, 'In spite of all the polls warning you that talking about spreading democracy in the Middle East might be a losing issue — despite all the critics and the resistance you faced — you kept talking about the importance of free societies and free elections. You kept explaining that democracy is for everybody. You kept saying that only democracy will truly pave the way to peace and security. You, Mr. President, are a dissident among the leaders of the free world.'
Revolution is a word that comes too easily to our lips. It must be matched with a life, a vision unhindered by the clamor of the crowd.
Thank you, Natan Sharansky, for showing us that distinction, again.