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A soviet Dissident on Glasnost

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A Soviet Dissident on Glasnost

Dissident Natan Sharansky had been imprisoned for nine years in the Soviet Union. In 1986 Soviet authorities deported him, and he moved to Israel. Writing from there, Sharansky gave his views on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s new policy of glasnost—or openness.

“Without glasnost there is not, and there cannot be democratism, the political creativity of the masses, and their participation in management.”—Mikhail S. Gorbachev, November 9, 1986
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Gorbachev is a supreme realist. He is acutely aware not only of the danger to the Soviet Union from the disastrous backwardness of its economy and the deterioration of its work ethic but also of the likelihood that decay will become irreversible unless the West comes to the rescue.

Liberalization is a function of this realistic assessment. It is a balancing act between the minimum required to satisfy Western sensibilities and the maximum the Soviet system can bear… Only the unforgivably naïve can believe that the Soviet leaders do anything benevolent because they have seen the error of their ways rather than in response to circumstances.

Again, there seems to be a misunderstanding of what does and does not influence the Kremlin. When dissidents recently banded together in Moscow to test the much-touted glasnost by announcing the formation of a political party and a number of them were summarily arrested, voices were raised throughout the West against rocking the boat. “It will embarrass Gorbachev,” we heard. “It may endanger his survival.”

…It is difficult to imagine how the struggle for human rights, for free emigration, for liberalization, for peace and true openness can be won without constant challenge from within and prodding from without. We are not “helping Gorbachev” by waffling on issues we deem basic…

There is little the West can do to affect political intrigue and power struggles that may be taking place in the Kremlin.

But it can affect Mr. Gorbachev’s need and determination to carry on with his reforms. The more we insist on linking reforms to the flow of trade, technology and information, the more we help the reformers in defending their position.

  1. Why does Sharansky think Gorbachev adopted his more liberal policies lie glasnost—openness—and perestroika—restructuring?

  2. Why did some in the West oppose recent actions by Soviet dissidents?

  3. How does Sharansky respond to such critics?

  4. In your opinion, does Sharansky favor or oppose glasnost? Explain your answer.

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