During his nine years in prison for the crime of wanting to emigrate to Israel, Natan Sharansky achieved the dubious distinction of setting a probable record—405 days—for time spent in solitary confinement. Like most recordholders, he is not happy about the high likelihood that his will be surpassed by the Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who has already spent 200 days of his two-and-a-half years of imprisonment in what is known as a punishment cell. Jay Nordlinger speaks to Sharansky about his own experiences, and his perspective on those who now find themselves at the mercy of Vladimir Putin:
Vladimir Kara-Murza, another Russian oppositionist, has been sentenced to 25 years for “high treason.” This was after he criticized the war on Ukraine. You have to go back to Stalin, says Sharansky, to find 25-year sentences. . . . In other respects, the situation is less bad today than before, says Sharansky. Putin has not yet closed emigration. You can still leave the country if you want, and have the means to do so. “In the days of our struggle,” Sharansky recounts, “the country was really a prison for everybody.”
In the past month, Sharansky has received letters from both Kara-Murza and Navalny. They have read his memoir and other such books, and drawn inspiration from them.
Before they were imprisoned, both Kara-Murza and Navalny were abroad, for medical treatment and other reasons. Both of them went back to Russia, knowing they would be arrested, imprisoned, and possibly killed. Sharansky understands them very well. Dissidents in the Soviet Union were always taking actions that they knew would lead to terrible fates. They did it because someone had to show courage. Someone had to stand up to the tyranny—to disturb it a little, or a lot.
If a dictatorship is to fall, says Sharansky, it is imperative that people on the outside—people who are free—stand in solidarity with people who are risking their lives inside. Free World governments must not allow the dictatorship, the persecutors, to conduct international business as usual.