Natan Sharansky, “The Case for Democracy”

It may very well be that I’ve just discovered my absolute favourite book I’ve read in 2011. And quite possibly my favourite book of all times. Of all the political books I’ve read in my life, this has to be the best one ever.

A former “refusenik” and a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, Natan Sharansky knows what he is talking about when he describes how an evil empire, to use Ronald Reagan’s words, works. He knows the system of a fear society inside out and in “The Case for Democracy”, describes it to the detail. Fortunately, Sharansky, also a former minister in the government of the only democracy in the Middle East—Israel—and a long-time human rights activist, also knows how a free society works and should work. And most importantly, he knows that all peoples (yes, peoples) want to be free and that there isn’t a nation for whom democracy would be “unsuitable”, as many people till this day claim.

Sharansky argues that the West is acting foolishly when it’s supporting fear societies like Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian Authority for that matter without demanding democratic reforms in return. Many western countries deem a dictatorship who loves them better than a democracy that hates them, and this argument is being heard too often from even the officials in the United States. But the fact is, as Sharansky argues, that a democracy that hates them is far better than a dictatorship that loves them, because in a fear society, the regime first of all may change its mind any time, and second of all, needs an external enemy to consolidate the power of the dictatorship by inciting its people to hate the “common enemy”.

Fear societies also sometimes deem one entity as both friend and enemy. As Sharansky argues, the Soviet Union, in order to function and to have a working economy, desperately needed the United States. However, at the same time, at home the “imperialist west” was still deemed as an enemy. So thus the Soviet Union had turned the US into both its friend and enemy. But he also says that Richard Nixon’s and Henry Kissinger’s détente policy, which was praised by many at the time, wasn’t the right approach because it didn’t take into account the Soviet Union’s extremely poor human rights record and therefore was in the Soviet Union’s best interest, but not that of the free world.

On the other hand, Ronald Reagan linked his dealings with the Soviet Union directly to human rights in the Soviet Union, demanding reforms in the monstrous state. Mikhail Gorbachev, knowing he desperately needed the United States, didn’t have other option than to initiate these reforms with his glasnost and perestroika policies. When the people of the Soviet Union, especially those in the occupied republics, realised that the fear society had become looser, they got strength and courage to raise their heads and start demanding their rights. And that was what killed the Soviet Union. Sharansky writes that without Reagan’s policy, Soviet Union could just as well have existed till this day.

Natan Sharansky draws the same parallel with the Western states’ Middle East politics. For years the West didn’t demand any internal change and democratic reforms from the Palestinian Authority, at the same time pressuring Israel to huge concessions and enormous amounts of money to Yasser Arafat, who with that money bankrolled himself, not the people in need. The parallel with the Soviet Union also comes to play regarding the Palestinian Authority’s need for the West and particularly Israel. Internationally, Arafat used the West and Israel to get whatever funds and concessions, and internally he incited people against Israel and the West. Let’s, for example, remember Palestinians dancing on streets after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Sharansky says that the West should have from the beginning demanded internal democratic reforms and respect for human rights from Arafat. He praises US president George W. Bush for finally doing that in the beginning of the 2000, but also says that unfortunately, the Middle East Road Map that was initially based on Bush’s speech where he refused to deal with Arafat and demanded human rights for Palestinians, moved away from these clauses and, as he then predicted, was eventually doomed. Today we see it ourselves.

Sharansky’s point is that all peoples are entitled to freedom, human rights and democracy. And it’s the duty of the free world to help them achieve it by giving them no other option that to induce democratic reforms. Unfortunately, till this day, the West deems it more useful to deal with “peaceful” dictatorships rather than setting conditions for these reforms.

Natan Sharansky (with Ron Dermer), “The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror”, PublicAffairs, 303 pages. Buy here!

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