PrintPrint CiteCite
Style: MLAAPAChicago Close


The Power of Democracy

Moderator: Mortimer B. Zuckerman, editor-in-chief, U.S. News and World Report
Speaker: Natan Sharansky, minister of Jerusalem and diaspora affairs, State of Israel; author, "The Case for Democracy: The Power to Overcome Tyranny and Terror"
November 9, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


New York, N.Y.

[Note: the transcript begins after the introductory remarks]

MORTIMER B. ZUCKERMAN: [In progress.]—I said, "I'm no expert in the subject since I'm single, but what was it like to rejoin your wife?" And he looked at me and he said, "Well, I recommend marriage." [Laughter.]

So he combines a wonderful sense of humor with a lot of insight based on a lot of personal experience and great personal courage. And he has written a book now, really essentially about democracy—democracy as a society that he describes as a free society. He compares it to dictatorships or totalitarian societies, which are fear societies. And the very nature of those societies—the mechanics of those societies—produce different outcomes. And I'd like him, if I may ask him to do so, to give that basic thesis to this audience, and then we'll follow it on with other questions.

NATAN SHARANSKY: Well, thank you, Mort. So I recommend marriage. [Laughter.] And second, on a less personal note, I believe that everybody understands the danger of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, but unfortunately, few people appreciate the power of weapons of mass construction in the hands of the free world, and this weapon is freedom.

In fact, this book was written to make the case for democracy for skeptics, for those who all the time are saying that—oh, they're saying that democracy is not for everybody, or that maybe it's not for everybody but it can be dangerous for us—democracy in some other parts of the world—because it's going to undermine stability, or that even if it is for everybody and it's not dangerous, who says that we can have any role, we cannot impose democracy on anybody. And in order to shackle those three points and to explain why I strongly believe—by the way, this book was written together with [Jerusalem Post columnist and political consultant] Ron Dermer—why I strongly believe that it is for everybody and that it's not only not dangerous, but that it's the best way to gain security all over the world, and that the free world has a big role to play, the goal—we analyzed the mechanism of tyranny and the mechanism of democracy.

And we—first of all, more definitions. What is democracy? What is free society and fear society? We dissidents in Soviet prisons understood very well. We were very different there. We were Russian monarchists and Ukrainian nationalists and Ural communists and Catholic priests and Pentecostals from Siberia and Muslims from Crimea, very different people, but we all understood that we wanted to live in a society where dissent is permitted. Town square test: You go in the center of the town, you express your opinions, and you are not arrested. That's free society.

The more that dissent is prohibited, that's a fear society. In a fear society, all the people are divided into three categories: true believers, dissidents, and double-thinkers. Dissent is the function of the toughness of the regime. Some people say, well, there are people—there are no dissenters in the Arab countries. There is no dissent. Well, no, in Stalin's Russia there was no dissent. All the dissidents were killed. Gandhi, if he were in Germany, there could never [have been] millions of followers, because he would be killed before he will have three followers. So this—the moment the punishment for dissent was changed from death to prison in the Soviet Union, hundreds of dissidents appeared. But dissidents is all the people that [inaudible].

The bulk of the people are double-thinkers, those who disagree with the ideology, but are afraid to express it. The life of double-thinkers is always self-censorship, always under the pressure of fear. The challenge for the regime: to keep all these double-thinkers under control. And it is this—and always when a double-thinker changes his life all because of dissidents. When the fear society fell apart, it's a great relief. I went through this personally and know many people who went through this change. It's such a great relief—relief after a long hike with a big weight on your shoulders. And you are so used to this you don't understand that there can be a different life. To take off this weight, suddenly you are—you want to fly, you—you feel so [inaudible]. That's exactly the change of the life of double-thinkers to the life of free persons.

And just because I know what a liberating feeling it is, and I said that just because of this, Japanese, when given an opportunity, in spite of all the predictions of Westerners that Japan will never have a democracy, and Latin American people, in spite of all the predictions, and the Russians, in spite of all the predictions, all the experts on Russia with whom we—Soviet dissidents heard constant debate, they all chose, when given the opportunity, chose free society and not fear society. That was also the first question, whether all the people can live in freedom.

The second question is: why is it not dangerous? Isn't it better to guarantee stability in our world by finding reliable dictators? And that's, unfortunately, a very common approach. Just today on Fox TV, after I was giving an interview, there was a debate between two senators. And one of them was saying the biggest danger now is chaos in the Palestinian Authority, and that's why we have, as quickly as possible, to find somebody who can bring everything into order. So that's a typical approach: let's rely on a dictator—or, as [former U.S.] President [Lyndon B.] Johnson said, "our son of a bitch"—that he will put things in order.

Here it's very important to understand that dictators—the difference between dictators and democratic leaders is that both want to stay in power as long as possible. Democratic leaders want to stay in power; dictators want to stay in power. But democratic leaders depend on their people. That's why they can be maybe personally a very bad person, but they have to deliver the goods or to pretend that they deliver the goods to show that they are responding to the needs of the masses. Dictators don't depend on people; people depend on dictators. And that's why dictators—the problem for a dictator is how to control the people, how to control those double-thinkers, and the best way to control—in fact, the most powerful way to control people—is to have the enemies, to have external enemies, and as a result, constantly to mobilize the people in the struggle against their enemy.

Look what happened with Egypt. Egypt signed with [Israel] an agreement, a peace agreement. And people say, "See, you have a good, reliable peace." Egypt got under this agreement many good things, but they lost Israel as their enemy. So in order to keep their own population under control, Egypt is looking for this enemy and is fighting the enemy. For two years I have been coordinating a struggle against anti-Semitism in the world. By far the most anti-Semitic government, the country where more copies of "Protocols of Zion" are published than in any other country in the world, is Egypt. So they lost us as their political enemy, they are trying now to concentrate on having us as their enemy differently.

Saudi Arabia. I was asking many times in '91 of American leaders, "Why are you not trying to use this unique situation when you save Saudi Arabia to encourage some changes, some liberal changes in Saudi Arabia?" The answer always was, "You don't understand. Saudi Arabia is not about democracy; it's about stability of the West." What happened? In order that the regime will be stable it needs the enemy. That's why it is the regime which is financing Wahhabis inside and all over the world. So the price of stability of the regime inside Saudi Arabia is terror all over the world, and that's what's happening again and again with the dictators. It's better to have a democracy which hates you than a dictator who loves you, and that's one of the conclusions.

And now the third question. With this I'll finish, because I want also the—OK, even if you convinced us in all this, that you cannot impose democracy on everyone. Do you have any role to play? Yes, the free world has a big role to play. The reason is that dictatorships, fear societies, they can be dangerous, they can be aggressive, they can be frightening, but they are extremely weak societies because [of] all the energy these regimes have to put into how to keep their people under control, how to keep this army of double-thinkers under control. And then in fear society, with time, the overwhelming majority of people turn into double-thinkers. We show how it happens in our book—how to keep them under control. So there goes all their energy.

And so, if this society wants to compete, to be aggressive, they need additional source of energy. And that's exactly why we dissidents knew that the Soviet Union was doomed to failure. People are saying, "Who could imagine the Soviet Union will fall apart without one shot?" And you can see that some months before the Soviet Union fell apart, the Sovietologists were predicting that it would last forever. But if you read what dissidents were saying—in 1969, my friend, [dissident] Andre Amalrik, wrote a book on whether the Soviet Union will survive until 1984. He described why the Soviet Union will fall apart. He said, "Look, here is a soldier who is keeping guard, and the prisoner is standing with his hands up, but he has to keep this gun 24 hours a day through all the year. So at some moment his muscles will be tired. The moment he will be tired, the gun will go down, the prisoner will escape."

So a totalitarian regime, fear society, needs the free world as their enemy in order to guarantee its own stability and as a friend, as a source of support. And that was all the idea of detente for Soviet leaders, how to keep the West and the United States of America as their enemy, and how at the same time to be able to use their resources. And that is the policy of people like Senator [Henry M.] Jackson [D-Wash.]. That is [the 1975] Helsinki [Final Act] agreement. Each could easily become the second Yalta [Conference in 1945]. We dissidents were afraid that it will be second Yalta, that in fact it would be lip service about human rights and legitimacy in controlling the world. And that's why we created [the Moscow] Helsinki Group, to make sure that it will not be lip service. And that's why the response of the American public in creating their own Helsinki group—turning it into real monitoring—was so important.

So when you're making the linkage, when the free world made a clear linkage in saying to the Soviet Union, "You can be our enemy, you can be our friend, but you cannot be both—and to be our friend means not whether you like us; to be our friend means that you respect the rights of your own citizens"—the Soviet Union had to make a choice. Whatever the choice is they will fall apart. And that is the power of the free world to influence fear societies.

So that is more or less the theoretical base of the book. And then we are going through positive examples, how it worked with the Soviet Union and with the Helsinki process; and negative examples, how it didn't work in the Middle East.

ZUCKERMAN: Yeah. I think that is an interesting question, because, as you say in the book, the human rights aspects of the Helsinki Accords really had a huge effect on the Soviet Union, and in fact contributed to the unraveling. So why did Israel agree, then, to support [Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat] and the kind of regime that he has, if you imagine that democracy is the only kind of country that will produce a neighbor that doesn't take Israel as the enemy? Feel free to add to that. [Laughter]

SHARANSKY: Well, [laughter] first of all, I think that if Israel didn't agree, then I didn't need to write the book. So probably somebody wanted me to write this book. Second, I have to tell you that unfortunately all the theory which I presented—and that's something that we dissidents in the Soviet Union strongly believed—when I speak about these things in the free world, in Israel, in Europe, for sure, and even in America, I very often feel myself a dissident as much as I was a dissident before, because, unfortunately, the people of the free world underestimate that great power which freedom and democracy have.

And when it comes to bringing peace, when it comes to coping with terror, again and again they're looking for the ways to find your own dictator who brings order. The process in [the 1993] Oslo [Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)] was absolutely opposite of the process in Helsinki. The idea was that we will take strong man from Tunis [Arafat], we'll bring him to the Middle East, we'll give him legitimacy, money, rifles, territory, control over the people, and he will bring us order, stability. You remember the phrase of our prime minister [Yitzhak Rabin], who said—one week after signing these agreements, he said it is good that Yasir Arafat doesn't have a supreme court, human rights organizations, and heart-bleeding liberals, because without all these, he will take care of the terrorists of Hamas much better than we can do, with our restrictions of democracy.

That's when I wrote my first article against Oslo. That was very unpopular. I immediately became a "warmonger." But I wrote: Look, we will be building him as a dictator, and he—because he is a dictator, because he has to control his own people, he will have no choice. He will do everything in order—his people will hate us, because he needs an enemy, and he has no other enemy. He cannot choose some absent enemy. The only enemy which can give him control, which can permit him to mobilize his people for the sacred struggle, is Israel. So we should be interested that there will be a supreme court and human rights organizations, a liberal press, and all the restrictions of democracy for this leader.

So that, I believe, was their basic mistake. And just now, when today I saw this big debate on TV, how much money Arafat has in his account, it's—I don't know it's important, less important, how many billions he has. I think more important is to remember the source of this money. There was the Paris agreement, signed in '95 by Israel, Palestinian Authority—agreement supported by all the world, by France, America, everybody. It was under this agreement, public money, which belonged to Palestinians, which Israel was transferring, was getting as taxes and was giving to Palestinians—20 percent of this money went in the private account of Yasir Arafat. Can you imagine that $100 will go in private account of politician? He will be put in prison. But here, we were giving tens of millions every month on private account [to] Arafat. And when I was raising this question many times with different governments, always the answer was, "We cannot go against the international agreements; all the world is behind it." And look, if—the idea was that if Arafat, in order to bring order and security, needs some pocket money for his own private army which will fight with terror, after all, it's a small price for this. As a result, we were supporting this corrupt dictatorship, which needed us as their enemy. And what happened?

So I really believe that it is the lack of trust in the real power of freedom and democracy to change the world which brought us to this tragedy, and I hope very much that today we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

ZUCKERMAN: The Bush administration has established, at least ostensibly, the principle that there has to be a government in or—a government of the Palestinians that is not corrupt and does, in a sense, follow some semblance of democracy. How do you think that can happen?

SHARANSKY: Well, look, President Bush made a great, historic speech two years ago on June 24th. Yes, I remember it very well, because four days before, I was sitting with Vice President [Dick] Cheney discussing what will be in that speech. And I mean, it was as historical as the [June 8, 1982] speech of [President Ronald] Reagan about the "Evil Empire". And for the first time, it was made very clearly that peace and stability in the Middle East will be only when there will be democratic leadership making democratic reform, and then Palestinians will have their state.

Unfortunately, what happened after this was that the State Department, in fact, used this rhetoric of democracy, but proposed the plan which, not starts with democratic reforms and finishes with the elections, but starts with elections and then will go [to] democratic reforms. The elections, it's not the beginning of democracy. Elections have to be in the end of the process, when there is civil society, when people are free to choose.

That's why I believe—and the plan which I proposed, in fact, some months before the speech of President Bush—was that there will be a transitional period, and there will be leadership, whatever leadership will be—like now—now there will be definitely new leadership. We are not in a position to decide who will be these leaders. But we have to put very clear conditions when and why we will support them: if it will be the leadership which is ready and is taking Palestinians from refugee camps—fourth generation of Palestinians living in refugee camps—and their leaders are using it in order to strengthen hatred against us; if it will be the leadership which is ready to create real climate of businesses and joint ventures, and they know how Yasir Arafat was refusing all our proposals—I, as minister of trade, came with a number of proposals to create jobs, but it demands that Yasir Arafat will have less control over his people, which he didn't want.

So it's important. If this leadership will not [inaudible] education for hatred, but giving real, good education for their people; and if it will be leadership which will not be using terror, which will be fighting terror, we have to embrace this leadership, we have to support this leadership. We have to have new Marshall Plan for the Palestinian Authority, but not vice versa. And then, I believe, very quickly, in one, two years, the situation can change. Then the more people stop living in fear society, the moment leadership is concerned about the improvement of the life of their own people, they becoming our real partners. With them, you can have very painful concessions. We can have agreements, because then we have mutual interests.

ZUCKERMAN: Why don't I turn this over to questions from the audience? Did you want to ask a question? Because I know you came up before.

QUESTIONER: Just a couple of questions. Do you think we're going to be able to establish—simple question. Do you think we're going to be able to establish some form of a working democracy in Iraq and perhaps in a greater area after that?

SHARANSKY: I don't think that you will be able to establish a form of democracy. I believe that Iraq people will be able to establish, and we will be willing to establish a form of democracy, because Iraq people then, exactly as all the other people—given the real choice to live, to continue living under constant fear, self-censorship, so, or to live in freedom—will choose or not choosing to live in freedom. Of course, there is a very difficult transitional period, when you have to help the Iraq people to overcome the consequences of this awful terrorist regime. But yes, I am optimistic, and in this book it is clear why I'm optimistic.

ZUCKERMAN: Do you think that the existence of terrorist networks within Iraq can so destabilize the society and particularly create a society where there's a lack of security? Will that be an overwhelming inhibition to the development of democracy?

SHARANSKY: No doubt that is today a problem. But again, these terrorists will be more and more isolated while the people, majority of the people will be enjoying more and more freedom and relying on this freedom. Look, if there were elections in 1945 in Germany, the Nazi regime would be re-elected. And in 1948 the situation was absolutely different. The same in Japan. Military forces would win in Japan immediately after Hiroshima. They had no chance to come to power in 1950, when there were elections. I'm absolutely sure that's what we'll have also in Iraq.

ZUCKERMAN: Back there. Would you please identify yourself when you ask?

QUESTIONER: Marty Gross. Minister Sharansky, what is your view on what's happening in Russia now? Do you think it's reverting more to a fear society, or do you think it's becoming more democratic?

SHARANSKY: Yeah. Of course I closely follow what's happening in Russia. I met many times with all the Russian leadership and President [Vladimir] Putin. And I'm in contact with my colleagues from dissidents' groups. Some of them continue their dissident activity. There are some very unfortunate things which are happening in Russia, and I would like to see the West more consistent in pressing, in linking their policy in with what's happening.

At the same time, when people are saying that, "Well, it's another proof that there can be no democracy in Russia, that in fact Russia went back to what it was in the Soviet Union," I believe it's simply nonsense. There is no gulag in Russia. There is no powerful KGB [the former Soviet Committee for State Security] where millions of people are informers who are working for KGB. For more than 10 years, the virus of freedom—the people live in freedom without this constant self-censorship. Now, to bring them back to that type of total control under which they lived, you again have to kill millions of people, which is absolutely impossible. So when people say, "But it's not real democracy," I want to remind you in France, 12 years after the French Revolution, there was Napoleon, who took it back from democracy. Does it mean that this revolution was in vain, that they went back to the times of [inaudible]? Of course not. It was the process. And I have to say that in America, after your great Constitution, how many years it took that there will be no slavery in America? So you have to see it in proportion.

It was—the country for a thousand years there was a totalitarian regime—then there was—a fear society was replaced by a free society. Twelve years after this, there are ups and downs, and at this moment, there are serious downs. Still, it's very far from that fear society which it was, and I say there is no way that it will turn into that type of fear society. To think that Russian people, because they are unhappy with instability, want to go back to fear society is like to think that the black people of America, because of all these problems of unemployment, crime and so on, want to go back to slavery. It's approximately the same.

ZUCKERMAN: A question over there.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, hi. Claudia Rosett. I want to ask you a bit of a follow-on. If the world is more free and democratic—and by many measures it is today, including things like [the] Freedom House [index] —we also hear the world situation discussed in terms that suggest it is also more dangerous than it was, say, during the Soviet era. That's what I'd like to ask you about. Is the world more or less dangerous than it was? And could you tell us a little about the connection there?

SHARANSKY: Well look, that's exactly the point that I'm trying to explain. It's an absolutely wrong view that dictatorships bring stability. That's exactly what happened with Saudi Arabia, that for our stability we need to strengthen this dictatorship. But then, in fact, the stability of dictatorship means destabilization of all the world because they need external enemies. You can see—if you speak about Freedom House—and I am using some of the statistics of Freedom House, so look, let's take the example, which countries are most friendly to Israel. If you ask every Israeli, take Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Libya, and say what is the order—what are more friendly country or less friendly country, everybody automatically will say Turkey is No. 1, the most friendly country, Morocco is No. 2, then Jordan, then Egypt, and then Syria. Now look in the Freedom House index of freedom, they have civil liberties and political freedom, and they take hundreds and hundreds parameters in order to put this index together. And in these parameters there is nothing about international relations, nothing about relations with Israel. It simply doesn't do that. You take the index of Freedom House and you will see the same order. Israel, if I'm not mistaken, Turkey is three, then there is Morocco, then there is Jordan, then there is Syria—Egypt—and then there is Syria. What it means, it means that the less democratic is a society, the more dangerous it is for its neighbors. Although the parameters are taken from absolutely different sources, but it comes to the same point.

So the world is more secure when there are more democracies. And if a democracy hates you, still there is less chance, much less chance, that it will fight you in a real war than a dictatorship which loves you, because today dictatorships have different enemy, but tomorrow, for its own stability, they will need you as their enemy.

QUESTIONER: First, nice to see you again. And it's always inspiring to listen to your vision, particularly since you are a person who lived through it and endured it. So, but taking your vision and bringing it to this very messy world of ours, and coming to the area of how-to, let me use as an example something I had to struggle with on the board of NDI [National Democratic Institute for International Affairs] which, you know, the institutions that worry about democratization. Take Algeria. Years ago, it came under the African subcommittee, which I chaired. Here you had a situation where there was a possibility of a free election, democratization, democracy. But the outcome was foretold. We knew that if the elections took place, there would be one election; there would never be a second one. How do you—and I hear what you say in a sense that civil society comes first; it's not the beginning of the process, elections is the end. How do you introduce civil society in a dictatorship which is holding on to its power and refuses to admit it? How do you establish the legitimacy of the process without taking the election first, and the risk that the election—so my question is, how do you make this work in this messy world?

SHARANSKY: OK. Well, first you started from one question then moved to the other. You start from the example of Algeria, and then said how will it work. Let me briefly answer both questions. Let's talk about Algeria. And people say, "You see, democratic elections, they are very dangerous because religious extremists will come to power." I say, if the process is organized in the way that shows you have a civil society where people are voting without fear, then there is very little chance that those who will be elected will be those who are bringing back fear society. People will not choose a fear society. But let's say this chance happened—and we know the history. In 1933 it happened; Hitler came to power in democratic elections. The question is, what made it so dangerous—the fact that Hitler won in democratic elections or the fact that the world later accepted the fact that Hitler destroyed a democracy in '34, he destroyed democracy; he said that will be the last elections? Now we have no more communists, no more socialists, let's be finished. So the world has to fear not when free elections and free society are taking place, but when there is an attempt, sometimes, unfortunately, a successful attempt to destroy this democracy; to turn these elections in [inaudible]. So it was very important how the free world will respond to Hitler, whether they will respond with appeasement or whether they will respond with blockade.

And now how we are doing it, how we are encouraging civil societies? Just now you have a wonderful example and opportunity. America encouraged [the March 2004] Alexandria Charter [on Arab reform]. The Alexandria Charter is, in fact, Arabs themselves, potential dissidents; [inaudible] dissidents met, discussed, and decided that everything has to be done to strengthen civil societies in Arab countries. And they were very critical, and they even—there were a lot of points represented to the American administration, big pride was shown here, see, these are all the right points. But what happens after? After this, Saudi Arabia and others said, "We are not accepting it—we will not have [a] summit meeting if the base of this summit meeting is to accept it." And so what decided the United States of America? They decided, "OK, we will keep explaining how it is important."

Here is a way. I was saying it here in Congress, I was saying it in the White House, that there is a unique opportunity to turn Alexandria Charter into new Helsinki Act but it means doing it, which—something which officially is not binding in, de facto binding, exactly as it was with Helsinki Act. If all your relations with Saudi Arabia and your readiness to help them to defend themselves; all your relations with Egypt and your readiness to give them $2 billion every year, to give them modern weapons; and with other countries will be linked to the question of support of the Alexandria process, which Arabs themselves say, "We'll see the results." If the idea will be, "No, we'll keep talking, and maybe some of them, they understand us, but in the meantime, we'll be strengthening these authoritarian regimes," then of course there is no chance to succeed.

ZUCKERMAN: A question over here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Roland Paul. On a somewhat different subject, but we should ask you this evening, since you're here. The Palestinian Authority is going to have a new leadership pretty soon, and the faces we see look much more appealing to the West than Arafat and Hamas—I don't know their names, but those two. Do you believe that this is going to lead to an agreement with Israel similar to [the July 2000] Camp David [summit] and [the January 2001] Taba [agreements]? And if not, do you think it's because the Palestinians will reject it or because [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon will reject it, assuming he can form any coalition he wants?

SHARANSKY: Look, the people who are [inaudible], [Secretary General of the executive committee of the PLO Mahmoud Abbas, also known as] Abu Mazen and [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, also known as] Abu Ala, they already were in power. And I remember big hopes of the West, in the United States of America, only two years ago about Abu Mazen, and the main argument was, "Look, he's very different; he is dressed differently, he speaks differently, he speaks foreign languages, he understands the West, he will be different." And then he wasn't. And then I heard many things also about Abu Ala. And I know personal all of them.

I think if we continue thinking in terms [of] who is dressed more like us, who understands us, and so on, it will take us nowhere. In fact, if we will continue to be obsessed with the question who will be the leader, it will bring us nowhere. We have to be obsessed with the questions ]of] what kind of leadership it will be, what kind of reforms they will be ready to do. And yes, then we have an opportunity for real peace.

And you mentioned Camp David and Taba. I think there was no chance. Why there was no chance? Because those were agreements between democratic Israel and corrupt dictatorships which all the time sought only how to keep us as the enemy and to keep West as a friend, because that was the way for this regime to stay in power. If this type of regime will stay into power, it doesn't matter who is the leader of this regime. So we can make it much easier; we can encourage this process, or we can slow down this process. If you believe this senator today on Fox, who by chance I heard because he was after me, who was saying the biggest problem for us is now uncertainty—very dangerous uncertainty, which now is in vacuum after Arafat, and that's why we have as soon as possible to embrace, to support, to strengthen the next strong leader. And if that would be [the] approach, nothing will help.

QUESTIONER: Please could you relate what you've been saying to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which apparently by democratic standards, according to Western media, would win any election because of their organization of civil society, charity, education, and so forth? And isn't there a danger that if they took power, as in the case of Algeria, the fear that there would not be another election?

SHARANSKY: Well, if you have elections today in Gaza, Hamas will come in power not because they have civil society; it's simply because it's a terrorist gang which is terrorizing people and which is controlling the people—exactly as with the many elections which were in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was coming to power, exactly as you could regularly had elections in Soviet Union and the Communist Party and the leaders of the Communist Party were winning. That's exactly the reason why I'm saying that elections is not democracy. Elections today means that a number of gangs, which are existing because of racket, because of terror and so on, they will be competing who will have bigger portion of power. That's why elections have to be after the free society is renewed. By "free society," after Palestinians are not scared to death, are not blackmailed; and then, I can assure you, Hamas will have no chance. Because today, if you see on the TV how the woman says that she is very proud that her son is a suicide bomber and she hopes that all her children will become suicide bombers, do you really believe this woman? It's typical, maybe the most dramatic example of double-think, when people have to say one thing and to feel another thing. And we have to help the Palestinians to be released from this awful situation of double-think living under the terror.

ZUCKERMAN: The lady over there.

QUESTIONER: You cited Andre Amalrik. Oh, I'm Kathy Nepomnyashchy, Harriman Institute. You cited Andre Amalrik as a Soviet dissident who foresaw the end of the Soviet Union.

SHARANSKY: Among many others, yes.

QUESTIONER: But Amalrik strikes me as being particularly interesting here because the scenario that he foresaw in "Will The Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?" was very different from the scenario that actually played itself out. He saw the Soviet Union as being vulnerable to foreign invasion, specifically from China. But I wonder if there is a lesson that we can draw from this for what's going on today in Iraq. In other words, is it very different—that one could argue that democracy came from inside in Russia rather than from invasion from outside?

SHARANSKY: First of all, I disagree with you about Amalrik. While it's true that he was very wrong, and I mentioned our book, wrong. In describing the possible international relations [inaudible], as he saw in '69 it will look like this—there is a coming big conflict between Russia and China, which didn't happen—but when he was analyzing Soviet society, he was speaking about the weakness of a society which spends all this energy to control the minds of these people, and that is the reason for weakness of the society, and that's why it will disappear. Whether it will disappear because of a conflict with some other totalitarian regime or because simply it will not be able to keep the people under their control, that's another thing, but his analysis of the weakness of the totalitarian society and the fact that the society cannot continue living without external support was absolutely true. That's exactly what happened. The Soviet Union didn't have a fight with China; it fought with the free world. It sent troops to Afghanistan and not to Mongolia and to China, as he thought, but I would say that is technical. That's a different variation of the same historical script how the fear society is coming to failure.

Now, as to Iraq, look, the factors which brought the destruction of the Soviet Union, they were three factors: dissidents inside; very strong solidarity with the dissent from the free world. Well, I would say these are the two main factors; and, of course, the readiness to make linkage, that was the third condition, linkage between the extension of human rights and international policy. These are conditions which are very important practically in changing every fear society, if you will not be afraid—as we are afraid today, unfortunately—to support directly, to support with our solidarity, dissidents in Arab countries. And we are really afraid to do it. And I give the whole list of dissidents whose fate is simply ignored in the free world. If we will not be afraid to support them, because we don't want to weaken our dictators, if we will be linking our policy with the real democratic reforms, I believe we will find enough response practically in every country and among every people.

ZUCKERMAN: Back there. Do you have a question?

QUESTIONER: Yes. Maynard Toll is my name. I wondered if you'd talk a little bit more about the relationship between self-determination and democracy. I mean, lately the U.S. government is pushing the notion of democracy, but President [Woodrow] Wilson during World War I and afterwards pushed the notion of self-determination. And the interrelationship between the two concepts sometimes presents a real quandary for statesmen what to do in a particular situation. When you have a country that has major divisions based on ethnic or religious or racial lines and is not a happy, unified community, sometimes you see people like [Yugoslavia's Josip Broz] Tito or Stalin or others using strongman tactics to keep that country together, Saddam [Hussein] being another example.

And the question is if there is a potential conflict—and this is facing us now potentially in Iraq with a question of whether they should be three countries or one country—it has faced Israel among those people that wanted to have the historic boundaries of Israel—what do you do about a large Arab majority and still have a democracy? This confronts country after country, India and Kashmir. And the question is, how do you navigate those shoals? Or do you consider that relatively unimportant in comparison to pushing democracy?

SHARANSKY: If you speak about self-determination, the autonomy of different peoples, that's a serious question for every part of the world. You have taken Kashmir. What about the Basques? Should they give them the state or should they not? And who will decide whether they should have a state or not? Northern Ireland. Why it was decided they shouldn't be a separate country or part of the island? In Quebec, why all the population is deciding whether Quebec should be an independent country? I would say that whether we want or not, but practically every group of the people who wants to be separate, theoretically have the right to be separate, but on the conclusion that it's not danger or death sentence to the society which is outside. In Russia, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. Who decides that Chechnya should be independent and Tatariya should not be independent? Now that's, in fact, a big fear of Russia on the Chechens. They understand that then they'll take all the approximately two dozen small Muslim republics crossing Russia, two parts between Europe and Asia. So the moment you decide that every group can be independent, it can [inaudible].

And now we'll come to Israel. Now, the overwhelming majority of Israelis feels very strongly that we have all the historical, religious, moral rights of the land of Israel, but we cannot—as a democracy—we cannot control millions of Palestinians. That's why it's not a question of our historical right; it's the question how we can survive as a democracy which can protect ourselves and how we can not run the Palestinians. And that's why the question of democracy is so important. That's why I'm speaking again and again it's not [inaudible] debate in Israel, it's not the question of where will be the borders, it's the question what kind of society it will be. And in fact, when I created the new immigrants party, I remember everybody on the left and right was shocked by the stupidity of the formula which we put in our program. We put in our program that the depth of concessions—territorial concessions—should be at the depth of democracy on the other side. They were saying it both on the left and right. They refused to put it as part of our agreement with right-wing government of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and with the left-wing government of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Barak. All our attempts to link democracy of Palestinians with our concessions were denied because people said it's ridiculous. But in the end, I believe that is the only formula, that's the only approach how you can really solve the problems or demands of the people to have independent state and the needs to give security and that it will not be dangerous to the others. The moment it is democracies, which are interested in the benefit of their own people, with all the painful concessions, the sides will come to the agreement.

QUESTIONER: My name is Allen Hyman, from Columbia University. Prime Minister Sharon has been praised by the president and by members of the Democratic leadership for his position to leave Gaza within the next 12 months. Many people in your party, in the Likud Party, have opposed him. Can you articulate what are the reasons for the opposition? And how will this affect his government in the next few months?

SHARANSKY: Well, because I am one of those who voted against it, so it's very easy for me to articulate why I was against it. I can't say about everybody. But also I explained in this book, in the last chapter, also, in a certain sense, it's mainly—for most of the Israelis, it's not debate whether we should stay in Gaza or not. In fact, most of the Israelis, I believe, overwhelming majority, agrees that we should not be there; that we, and not because it's not ours, but because there is more than 1 million Palestinians, and we cannot and should not try to control their lives.

But the real debate was how you guarantee our security. When you're guaranteeing our security through trying to encourage—that we partner with whom you can negotiate, or you are making one-sided steps, hoping that as a result you can live without any agreement—in fact, let me say that this decision of Ariel Sharon, with which I disagreed because I believed that it can encourage terror, but I understand very well—you know, I discussed with him many times how he came to this idea—he said: "Look, we don't have any partner—for 10 years, we don't have any partner to fight terror. In fact, they're becoming more and more involved in terror against us. And in spite of this, the world is pressing us, and it will continue with—instead of pressing on dictatorships to start fulfilling obligations, the world is pressing on us that let's give more and more and more and more—and we—Barak gave maximum, what nobody in the West thought that we are going to give it, and it didn't help. It was the beginning of the intifada."

So in these conditions, our leader, looking for the ways how to stop this process, when the pressure's on our side and the terror continues—and the idea is that maybe with one-sided steps, we at least can make it very clear that we want peace and stop this awful pressure on us and wait until we have a partner, if we have—well, I believe that that's exactly as it happened with Arafat, that everything which we were giving was used to strengthen the terror. [Inaudible] will become part of the state of terror, that the awful terrorist attacks will be now prepared in a much more comfortable situation.

I think that my main disagreement with Ariel Sharon—and we have many agreements and a lot of chemistry between me and Ariel Sharon. I have a lot of respect for him. And I understand what makes him to make this decision. But my disagreement is, he and many other leaders in the Middle East don't have faith that at one moment we have a partner, that there can be real democratic changes. And if you really don't have a faith—and it's very easy not to have such a faith when you're facing this awful enemy and when you see the celebration or the people dancing on the roofs when there are kids killed in the buses or after 9/11; it's very easy not to believe that it is possible—then you are thinking about one-sided steps. And that is, I believe that is the main disagreement.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Bob Lifton. How does your formulation work with autocracies that are becoming capitalistic, like China? We've heard discussion the other day about the possibility of a country like Iran, which is an autocracy, moving towards capitalism and that that might be a way of living with the West comfortably.

SHARANSKY: Well, as to Iran, I believe that changes in Iran can happen very quickly, because Iran today is a country where practically all the population, almost all, is double-thinkers. In one generation—you can see in Iran is the almost classical example of our theory, how in one generation a country of true believers in that regime which came to power in 1971, turn into the country of double-thinkers, where practically almost nobody, except very narrow layer of these extremists, nobody believes in this ideology.

Now one leader today, the president of one of the republics which today is in the present state but before was a Soviet republic, and he's the new president of this state—I met with him some months ago, and we were discussing some things, and he mentioned that he recently was in Iran with an official visit. He said, "It reminds me of the Soviet Union so much." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Like in the Soviet Union, the leadership hates America, and all the people love America." So—and this nation, with—say with minimum efforts, like those which were done vis-a-vis Soviet Union—the changes can be encouraged.

The fact that the people who are responsible for broadcasting [into] Iran don't have a budget, and they're coming to us and asking maybe we can find ways to get $2 or $3 million for the budget for this, I think, is absolutely ridiculous. America was spending hundreds of millions for propaganda, for bringing the message in Russian to Russia. Here we are spending now maybe billions and billions of dollars to cope with the threat of Iran, and we are not ready to spend $20, $30 million to help—to dissidents, to influence on double-thinkers. So I believe that in Iran we don't have to look for the way—how first to become capitalist and then become free. Here we have to act in a very energetic way to make very clear linkage between our relations with Iran and what's happening with human rights, to strengthen the propaganda of dissidents—and there is a very strong dissident movement in Iran, students' movement and the others—to find the ways to support them. And I believe that the change can be brought.

And I do—as one who knows how dangerous is nuclear weapons—I was involved in negotiations with Russia for the last eight years—I believe that the best and the shortest way to cope with the threat of nuclear weapons is to encourage the change of the regime and to encourage the change of it—turning it from a fear society into a free society. With China, it's more difficult, but also we can see how the—more difficult simply because of the scope of the control and so on. But you can see how this free-flow information and involvement in mutual business and so on, how it strengthens the potential of the free society and how it makes double-thinkers more and more independent, few of them—living with less and less fear. I believe that these policies have to be strengthened.

And from this point, of course capitalism always is—capital, what means—in strengthening the middle class is one of the most important things of a free society. It is the middle class which is first to defend their personal interest and, as a result, start building a free society. By the way, in Palestinian society, I believe it's the very strong class of businessmen who are most interested in finishing with this regime of corrupt dictatorship, and they are our real partners.

ZUCKERMAN: Let me ask one more question before we draw the session to a close. One of the institutions that the world fashioned in order to try and enhance freedom and to be a sort of vessel for a lot of moral values was the United Nations. How would you assess what's happened there and its role now as we go forward?

SHARANSKY: Well, it's something that I'm very critical about, the United Nations. But I think the problem begins earlier. We have problems with the human rights movement. Human rights movement, which was the great movement and through this day is a great concept for the mankind, today means more and more sympathy to weak and poor, what is [a] very important feeling, and it has to be supported, encouraged by churches, by schools, by society. But it is absolutely disconnected from the idea of free society. It simply has nothing to do. And that's why the ideas of struggles of human rights can be used by dictators to justify their dictatorship and to be used in their struggles against democracy. That's what's happening with the United Nations. They speak about high principles, but majority there are corrupt dictators, the people who are not elected by their people, who don't permit their people to have a voice, but have a voice in the United Nations. So in fact, decisions which are made have nothing to do with the will of the people of the world. They have to do with the interests of the survival of dozens of dictators in this world.

And that's why it is a very problematic organization. That's why in our region we can see how their representatives directly cooperate with pro-terrorist organizations. That's why there is so much corruption there. And I believe that's what we are proposing in our book, that we have to start thinking about creating a parallel to the United Nations, an organization, a United Nations of free societies. And these, in the United Nations of free societies, the question of human rights will not be disengaged from the question of freedom. And these type organizations can really make very important decisions about the future of the world.

And then I want to say that—what helped to defeat Soviet Union? There was great union between security hawks and human rights activists, who understood that in the end they have the same aim: to strengthen security in the world, it means to strengthen democracy in the world. That's exactly what we need today here, in the world. After elections, everyone says that America is divided. That is the way to unite America—to unite security hawks on the right and real liberals, who believe in democracy, on the left, and to work for bringing more freedom and more security in our world.

ZUCKERMAN: Well, let me just say, on behalf of everybody here, how much we appreciate what you said and what you've written. In fact, I think it is fair to say that too often we forget what the ideal of democracy can mean, and it is wonderful to have a chance to have it brought into focus again. So I thank you very much on behalf of the Council. [Applause]







More on This Topic

Foreign Affairs Article

Democracy in Decline

Author: Larry Diamond

In the decade following the Cold War, democracy flourished around the world as never before. In recent years, however, much of this progress...


The Role of Religious Environmentalism

Speaker: Mary Evelyn Tucker

Mary Evelyn Tucker, codirector of Yale University’s Forum on Religion and Ecology, discusses the role of faith-based organizations in...