tv Former Soviet Dissident Natan Sharansky CSPAN January 1, 2018 8:00pm-8:56pm EST
just under an hour. >> good afternoon. good afternoon everyone. i am the director of the roosevelt house public policy institute. i see get used to saying good afternoon because we have been increasingly hosting afternoon programs. one more special than the next -- than the previous. it is a special privilege and honor to be introducing the program today. we had to say what guest would we want to have at roosevelt house, the home of eleanor and franklin roosevelt, with the words of the four freedoms on the wall. natan sharansky, we are so pleased to have him.
i am not going to spend time redescribing or interpreting a biography that is so well-known and all of our minds and hearts for all he endured in the name of freedom. it is one of the moving stories of the 20th century. i can just say we are honored to have him. we are grateful to our friend, a great journalist, publisher, member of the roosevelt house board of advisors and most recently, a teacher in our human rights program. peter osnos, for inviting his friend to our halls and persuading him to come. i am delighted to introduce for this conversation, our friend peter osnos, and our friend
natan sharansky. [applause] peter: i am pleased to see how natan can draw a crowd in the midday. this entire conversation for which we have roughly an hour is an introduction, so i am not going to do one, but i will say that natan and i met in the summer of 1974 in moscow. he was introduced to me as the spokesman for the dissidents. i looked at him and said, you are the spokesman? he was not exactly what you would call at that time. he was 26. i thought to myself this is going to be a formidable enterprise, but little did i know, in 1977, natan was arrested, charged with treason,
sent to the gulags for nine years. when he came out and went to israel and joined his beloved wife, i went with my colleague bernstein, who was then andchairman of random house the founder of the human rights watch. we went to israel and persuaded natan with a check to write his memoirs for us, his prison memoir. we published it as "fear no evil." it is one of the great books of its kind because it represents in so many ways, one person's ability, one person's ability to take on a system as formidable as the soviet union was at the time. when natan was arrested and taken to prison, charged with
treason, stripped naked, nobody was more defenseless than he was , and the thought that went through his mind was "they cannot humiliate me, only i can humiliate myself." for the next nine years, he outsmarted the kgb and when they told him that they were going to release him across the atlantic, they said you are going to get out of the car and walk in a straight line over to the other car. what did he do? he zigzagged. he has been zigzagging in israel ever since. there are three phases in natan's adult life. one was prison. two was politics.
three is the jewish agency, which he has been the executive director of. for the last nine years. each of those things. nine years in prison, nine years in politics and nine years in the jewish agency. we will go over that and then have questions. can you reflect on all of these years later? what did it mean to you to be in prison? natan: i zigzagged from the kgb car. i am here because peter osnos was my accomplice in my sentence and i have to respect my accomplice.
when i am reading about roosevelt and his wife, it is so appropriate. as if they read my book. the main thing is, freedom of speech, the second is to worship the god in which you choose to do it. the third is the needs of the people and the fourth is to be free of fear. not from fear of god but from fear of people. that is what i think we are discussing and fighting for. thank you for inviting me here. eleanor roosevelt's declaration of human rights.
one of those topics confiscated searches andring one of those things that they were printing and disturbing to the people was to remind them of what their real rights are. thank you for inviting me. to speak about these years, by far the easiest. because there, you only have physical hardships. in terms of moral life, it is such a simple, pure, it is so easy to keep your integrity , because all you have to do is keep saying no to the kgb. jews have a very demanding religion. 613 commandments.
if you want to the fulfill yourself, you have to fulfill 613 commandments. in prison, everything comes to one thing. you say no to the kgb and that is it, you have the fulfilled everything. you have obligations to your wife, family, to your country, to your people, to your history, you did all that. they put you in punishing cells, cold. it is all physical. i very early understood.
the only thing that really belongs to me is my inner freedom and those are the only things i have to keep, the things i am responsible for. now that they arrested me, i am not responsible for my body. they can do what they want. but they cannot take from me my freedom if i do not agree to give it to them. after you overcome the first weeks, you overcome the physical fear, which you feel every time they remind you of a firing squad. sometimes they do it during interrogation to remind you then.
if you do not cooperate, they will kill you. you have to overcome this feeling of almost automatic fear from this world, but it only took a couple weeks -- but the moment you overcome it and the moment you feel of all what changed, you go into the struggle of the people who believe in freedom and you felt yourself a very important part of the struggle being a chain connected to this row of dissidents. physically, they move you a few miles to the other place, but all of this will continue and all the people who continue their struggle, maybe now you are more important than before, and from this point, you're not
alone and all of this feeling of rediscovery of your history of your identity and believing in the image of god creating man, all of this stays with you. the moment you feel that you are not alone, it is your inner freedom. all the rest is complementary. that was the easiest time. while i was enjoying my nine years in prison, my wife, none of them -- she thought, is she doing enough, maybe there was something she had to do.
every moment, you have to do why, you're not doing everything that you can, so i was thankful. i did everything, i have filled all of my commandments and obligations. but the moment they take you from prison and through berlin, straight to my wife, then to israel. that was the end of a vacation, because then you are responsible for every choice. to eat, to drink, to have these people as your friends or your enemies.
are they really wishing you well or not? whether you as a member of the -- whether your government is doing the right thing or the wrong thing. i came into politics after prison. peter: i want to point out that i recently learned that natan is one of only four non-americans to receive both the presidential medal of freedom and the congressional gold medal. the others were mandela, john paul and mother teresa. when i mentioned this to natan, he pointed out that it was not
the congressional medal of freedom that he -- he and his wife both received the medal. he was the only one in that group of four who had a successful marriage. [laughter] peter: i think that particular test of mind is what has given him the capacity to do the very many things that he has done. the ability to see the world in that kind of perspective, that when you are in prison, and then when you are in israeli politics. talk a little bit about what you learned in nine years of israeli politics. natan: i will tell you. israel democracy has so many things. it is so interesting. it is so overwhelming and so challenging.
every day, you have to make decisions. usually, people have to think about good and evil during a major crisis or during a war. israelis have to think about it, every moment. if they forget about it, people from the neighboring party will immediately remind them, what you are doing is evil. evil to the country. it is very vibrant. for me, it was difficult. not so many dissidents went into politics, they were not really successful.
dissent is always about not compromising ideological positions. you have to be ready to make compromises every minute. the moment you are not ready to make compromises, you better resign. i was in four prisons and never resigned. i felt more comfortable there. i came to piolitics -- to politics to succeed with one million jews. you will not find a history of america or any other country, a moment where 20% of the population are joining the country that did not speak the language that is part of the country. that happened with israel. integration was so successful.
the average level of life for those newcomers is little bit higher than in israel and all the hospitals and academies and everything. one of the reasons was very quickly, we understood you must hold political power in order to be equal. seven newcomers became members of the parliament, and then many deputy mayors of the city became people who did not speak hebrew well. that accelerated the process of integration.
you have to make decisions and compromises with all of your partners. the prime minister helped with his advice to my wife. on the other hand, i felt we had to go straight and we were zigzagging. i have to say, politics is not a comfortable place for dissidents. if your strategy is not to compromise, better not to go into politics. i felt that my main reason for reaching into politics was very successful. i don't think it is for me.
would do. i said, if you will be building peace, the fact that he will do everything, his people will hate us because that is the only way for the hate to survive is if they have an enemy. i spent nine years in this position. in the document of our there was the question territory for peace. it is laughed out by right and left.
those on the right said we will trade this territory for democracy. those in the left said if you want to make peace, you are not asking. we are very close in the government to giving away both rights and -- insisted that he estimate everything and -- was ready to give -- imagine later when we have all that happened in syria, if you did not give him all of these. the chemical weapon would be on the shores. i entered the government with that youdent position
cannot disconnect the peace process from civil society and they laughed at us. i think i was a successful politician. some other people will say it was ridiculous. either he wants peace or does not. i don't believe in peace, which will not be built on civil society. peter: i want to follow up with one question. as a politician, you have already said you thought you were a more successful prisoner, a very successful prisoner because of your ability to resist and to maintain
internally, integrity. do you think that you saw in israeli politics that integrity was sustainable? natan: i saw more integrity in israeli politics than american politics. [laughter] did i see a lot of it? no. peter: we did not invite you to criticize. [laughter] and politics,ty incompatible. [laughter] natan: politics is all about compromise, every day. the politician who stops making compromise, the system can't
survive. in 2000, i was explaining to many leading journalists that peace is so close to the middle east and everything is so good and it is only because of israel and then they give them these names in terms of integrity. here are four names. i give them mubarak, yasser, gaddafi, and not in yahoo!.
-- and benjamin netanyahu. there are only four. that is why there is hope. gaddafi has only shown that he is open to compromise on nuclear weapons. our only problem is netanyahu. he is elected. if only he would agree. then there was the arab spring. i say now, what is the number one problem? all the same. if only netanyahu.
people don't want to hear the connection between democracy, human rights, and peace. i don't feel comfortable saying there is a lack of integrity. there is much more integrity in israel policy than any other countries in europe, and even in america. peter: you had six grandchildren when you left israel. you are going to be three score and ten. 70. in your view, when you look back on it now, can you say, are there people who have endured in your mind as models of integrity in a complicated world? natan: king david and my wife. [laughter] peter: well said.
the grandmother of your six grandchildren. before we go to questions, let's talk a little bit about the jewish agency. not what it does, but this current challenge we will call it, in which the israeli community of jews and the american community of jews and the american community of jews have the issue of who gets to pray where at the wailing wall? talk about how you confront the issue and where it stands. natan: going back to the integrity of people. i feel very strongly about this order, my wife and then king david.
two very important people who because of their integrity, played such an important role. my teacher had tremendous influence on me and where i am. you have to have the portraits of the president and prime minister. the other man, even if you disagree, is president reagan, who called the soviet union evil in spite of the fact that all of his advisers were explaining to him what is politically correct. now you have a president who will do it, will call it evil, the soviet empire.
second, he brought a lot of moral clarity to israeli relations. his integrity and approach to international relations, for this specific question was extremely important. >> nats is something simple. -- special connection -- they came to israel from all over the world. , the decision was made long ago.
emphasis on building bridges between israel and jewish communities. with very important things that advancing.g, it is the only thing i know that represented the government. the leaders of jewish federations and the leaders of conformed -- are sitting together, discussing together, debating together and making decisions together. there is a long history.
it definitely helps. he looks at it as a tactical issue that can be corrected. a strategical issue because we need to fight iran. i think relations -- common goal , ministers resigned or joined. peter: once a dissident, always a dissident. there is a c-span camera here. we have mics. if you have a question, please address it to the mic.
keep it short. let's begin. i thought there might be a hand or two. right here. >> my name is dr. edward powers. i am a hunter college student. my question, what do we know about the russian/chinese connection that is reported that -- i was told by a quote unquote russian banker that vladimir putin is leasing farmland in siberia to the chinese and that the chinese are going to populate that area with the second child, who has no status in chinese society. i will finish by saying, i asked henry kissinger and his comment
to me was that the chinese view siberia as their land and they are going home. peter: you have 30 seconds to reply. [laughter] natan: i have no concept of the chinese government or even president putin. i can tell you i was in siberia and my wife grew in siberia. i went through different stages of relations. a limited friendship. we were singing songs about russia and china are friends forever. we were participating in demonstrations against the chinese embassy. there were different stages. there are huge empty lands in siberia along the border with china.
you can go for hundreds of miles and see a hundred people here or there. on the other side of the border, there are whole populations of chinese people. i think the potential for russia, which is keeping every square meter to give away. they keep giving all the square meters. japan was proposing hundreds of billions of dollars to pay to give it back. they are so big, why do they these four islands? for russia, it is against the nature of the history of the
country to give it away but look at the physics. the most empty lands, one meter out of this is the most populated. more opportunity for russia. if russia would decide to keep the territories, it is not very important. if you can give siberia to china, who knows? maybe that is a great opportunity. i think that would be a very unstable station. peter: another question. right over here. >> i am a student here at the honors college. my question is, what do you think is russia's role in the middle east, today, especially given what is going on in syria
and with america kind of leading the picture and also given the painful history between russia and its jews, what is the appropriate relationship that israel should have with russia? natan: on one hand, this one is easy for me to speak about putin as a dissident. putin is a former kgb officer and is not a big fan of democracy. on the other hand, it is difficult for me to speak negatively about putin as a -- activist.sts putin is the first
non-anti-semite in russia in a thousand years. i can say a lot of bad things about putin. he is permitting or supporting the development of jewish communities. he has created no problems for us, the jewish agency, to help those who want to migrate or build communities. at the same time, the same putin is very problematic for democracy in russia. authorities, corruption, you name it. many of my friends are dissidents and they find themselves in this capacity. as to the middle east, with all
of the sympathy that putin has from israel. his main policy is against america. for him, it became clear to me from our conversation almost 20 years ago that for him, iran -- he does have policy towards iran. that is his way to show the americans that they should taken seriously. the same about syria. here i have to say that the one who really built -- not really built putin but helped him to become so big again is president obama.
i do not see much difference in obama orom president president trump in the middle east. the fact that an american president put a clear redline through syria and if you you -- -- if you will use chemical weapons, that will be the end, and then did not do it. he said russians will be very carefully watched and then he did not deliver. the same with crimea. putin before he went to crimea, he was increasing his statements, that we cannot accept the station and was watching what is happening in europe and america. and when there will be no reaction, for the first time after the agreements, there was changing of the borders.
the fact that we have a russian base in syria, if russia decides he can control the airspace as we see. --n though we have good rush relations with russia, does not matter. when iran goes straight for our , russia put in their place and america is watching. i do not remember it. the fact that russia could
change in a dramatic way and america was not accepting it, that is what is happening. even though our prime minister tries to be from the with the russian president and the american president. i think it is a dangerous station, what is happening. iran, syria, russia and america. time for two more quick questions. right here. >> inc. you. i am cynthia roberts. you -- thank you. i am cynthia roberts. it is striking how strong and
relation issrael's with russia. a whole host of other people have expressed surprise that america has so much trouble figuring out how to deal with russia sanctions to work. -- my follow-up you making this point about positive relations between the prime minister and vladimir putin from the standpoint of good relations? extraordinary how a leader of russia is so positive towards the jewish community, but what about israel in terms of strategic interest? do you recommend that the prime minister draw his own red lines?
as to relations between russia and israel, everything was about jewish community and jewish character. corruption.ot of trying. .t becomes really impossible they find their way to go to the central authority. this is all throughout russian history. not only in the times of putin, but in the times of stalin's russia. the ambitions of russia to be a superpower and to be equal with
america, i think they understand very well the fundamental strength of russia. they cut russia in two, that is where the most power is. that's in the long run. in the immediate future, he needs iran as a way of pressuring america. putin was saying russian weapons never will be used against israel. when we have the second level, they saw this package of antitank missiles used against our soldiers, and many soldiers were killed. look at the box.
then damascus, syria. it is the fact that it has become such a huge strategic steps. hezbollah, syria, and iran, is far more powerful than in the past. terrorists are connected to the power of syria, the iranian army. it does matter how good -- it doesn't help us from this point. peter: i'm going to ask you a final yes or no question, because we are running out of time. if we invite you next year, will
you come back? natan: with such great statements, of course. i am happy to be in your house. it is a powerhouse of ideas. peter: on behalf of the director, i'm inviting you back. natan: to my accomplices, i can't say no. peter: here here. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2017] [crowd noise]
announcer: a look at the funding and readiness with representatives from the military, elected office and defense industry to talk about the equipment and manpower required for potential conflicts around the world. here is a preview. >> obviously going to defend ourselves against nuclear north for bid if iran becomes a nuclear state, we will defend against them as well. we will keep fighting terrorists , and fortunately. we have europe and asia, traditionally, as congressman gallagher has been saying. they do not want to be dominated by another hostile power. we will continue to do that. everyone's candidate for this, we will scale back our ambition, will be the middle east. i would love for the region to return to the obscurity that it
deserves. that is just not going to happen. aboutk we are talking resources. resources, iabout think everyone automatically goes to the issue of budget. it is intellectual resources. how do we think about fighting the potential conflicts in the future differently? you can see this tomorrow at 8:00 eastern on c-span. the c-span breastwork continues its tour in january with stops in raleigh, columbia, atlanta. follow the tour and join us on .anuary 16 at 9:30 eastern a.m.
our washington journal guest is attorney general josh stein. now, a discussion on u.s.-russian relations with the russian ambassador to the united states. this event was hosted by the world affairs council of northern california. [applause] amb. antonov: thank you very much. for me, it is a great honor for me to be here. i would like to thank the council for this opportunity to be with you. it is important to discuss a very burning issue, what should we do together? do we need each other? are we partners?