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Free societies vs. fear societies

"Free societies vs. fear societies" Continued...

Issue: "Lebanon: Democracy now," Feb. 26, 2005

WORLD: Do you believe Mr. Abbas is capable of reining in Hamas and other terror groups?

Sharansky: He can. But he'll only do it if he has no other choice. . . . Abu Mazen needs to be pressured by the free world. He needs the free world. He needs their verbal support, their financial support, their encouragement and legitimacy. So the U.S. and Europe and our own government have a lot of leverage. We need to keep pressing him to do the right thing. If he cannot or doesn't want to, then we have no interest in him as a partner.

WORLD: What was your reaction to the recent elections in Iraq?

Sharansky: I am very optimistic. We should be clear that a democracy has not yet been built in Iraq. It is being built. Free elections usually come at the end of the democratic process, not the beginning. There is much more to be done to create democratic institutions and to create a society where people feel free to think what they want and say what they want and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal. Still, the elections were an important first step.

People demonstrated that they were ready to take big personal risks to vote, and that was extraordinary. They have had a very hard experience of living in a fear society, and when given an opportunity of moving from a fear society to a free society, they risked their lives to do it.

WORLD: What is your sense of the future of democracy in Russia? A growing number of observers in the West are concerned that Vladimir Putin is becoming a new Russian dictator. They point to the Kremlin's takeover of television stations, jailing of political opponents, and ending democratic elections for provincial governors.

Sharansky: Look, for a thousand years Russia never was a democracy. But I believe the Russian people want to be free. There have been tremendous changes there in the past 10 or 15 years. Millions of people are not enslaved in gulags like they once were. Millions are not working for the KGB anymore. Millions do not live in fear that one mistaken word and they'll be thrown in prison. This is real progress. There have been some serious retreats. But look, 12 years after the French revolution there was Napoleon. There are ups and downs in the development of democracy in any country. Now Putin is restricting many areas of Russian life. The free world should not be hesitant to raise these issues or to encourage the Russian government to expand freedom, not restrict it.

WORLD: Why do you believe Russia is selling nuclear technology to Iran when Iran is now recognized as a leading terrorist threat to the United States?

Sharansky: Putin told me . . . back in '97 that the day will come when it is clear that it is Western sales of technologies to Iran which will be just as critical to helping Iran develop weapons of mass destruction, maybe more so, as Russian technologies. And sure enough, a year ago when the scope of Iranian activities was discovered, everyone could see that the technologies that flowed through Pakistan, England, and Holland have created a big danger. Unless something happens, within one or two more years Iran will develop nuclear weapons.

WORLD: Is an emerging Russian-Iranian alliance a direct threat to Israel's security?

Sharansky: The free world seems blind to taking effective measures to stop this impending disaster. Now it must be clear that the free world cannot afford to permit the regime of the Ayatollahs to have nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. The Iranians have made their intentions perfectly clear. They intend to destroy Israel and the other "Satans" in this world.

WORLD: What should be done to stop Iran?

Sharansky: As I point out in my book, Iran is a unique example of a country where in one generation a society of true believers in radical Islam has become a society of double-thinkers. That is, in their hearts and minds most Iranians are disgusted with their government and disillusioned with radical Islam, even though with their lips they must avoid being critical for fear of government reprisals.

There are many Iranians eager to change their government. With some encouragement from the free world I think we can help the people of Iran to bring about democratic change. I was glad to see President Bush speak directly to the Iranian people in his State of the Union address. But it is not enough. The United States and Europe-the entire free world-must do much more to encourage the forces of freedom and reform within Iran, before it is too late.

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