The Magazine

The View from the Gulag

From the June 21, 2004 issue: An interview with Natan Sharansky: He describes the "beautiful moment" when the news of the Evil Empire speech reached Siberia.

Jun 21, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 39
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Linkage. This is the most important thing Reagan did. He established the pattern and insisted upon compliance. It worked to bring down the greatest, most totalitarian empire in all history. It can surely work today against enemies no less dangerous but far less powerful. But linkage takes both courage and moral clarity. Reagan's great strength was his optimistic faith in freedom and that every human being deserved freedom and that this freedom is a force that can liberate and empower and enrich and ennoble.

It is hard to imagine two people more different in life experiences than Natan Sharansky and Ronald Reagan. Did you feel those differences on a human level?

We both saw the world similarly. That is what matters. Not the experiences themselves but what is learned from them. People used to say that Reagan's jokes exposed him as a simpleton. To me they revealed his strengths and convictions. He took great joy in telling me the old joke about the time Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev and his deputy Alexei Kosygin discussed what would happen to the USSR if it really did conform to the Helsinki Accords and adopted a truly open emigration policy. "You and I would be the only two citizens left in the USSR," Brezhnev said. "Speak for yourself," answered Kosygin. Ronald Reagan understood the power of this joke. He stood up to evil. He had the courage to fight evil and the wisdom to defeat it.

It seems Ronald Reagan did Alexei Kosygin one better. Today the Soviet Union has no citizens!

Indeed. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, to the legacy he leaves behind, we now know that totalitarianism can be beaten and that freedom can come to anyone who wants it.