From time to time his name pops up in the paper. He has been transferred to another prison. He is suffering terrible headaches. He has been forbidden visitors. He is on a hunger strike. He has lost lots of weight. He . . . The final blurb has not yet been written.
I am writing of Anatoly Scharansky, and I am doing so because I once met his wife. Shortly after Scharansky was sentenced in Moscow to 13 years in prison, I spent the day with her here. It was a Friday, which is important because Avital Scharansky is a convert to Judaism, and so she had to complete her schedule before nightfall when the Sabbath began. Then, in a hotel room, she lit her candles, said her prayers and sat in a chair by the window as the sun set.
So I follow the Scharansky case. He was jailed for being a Soviet dissident -- the contact man between the dissidents and the western press -- although the official charge was treason. It did not help him any, of course, that he was Jewish and wanted to emigrate to Israel, and it did not help him any, either, that he was a wise guy. He poked fun at the KGB, once asking the agent who was following him if he had change for the phone. He used the money to call a western reporter.
From time to time, I have wanted to write about Scharansky, but up to now I have not. There is not much to say. He is in jail, suffering, and he should be freed, but there are so many others like him, most of them truly obscure, that it seemed both unfair and pointless to write about him just because I happened to have met his wife. Anyway, nothing could be done for Scharansky.
But recently a woman convinced me otherwise. She had come to Washington on business but in her free time she planned to go over to Radio Free Europe with a press release about another Soviet dissident. His name is Yuri Badzyo, a Ukranian literary historian, who was sentenced to seven years in prison. When she told me what she was going to do, I said what's the use. She shrugged and said, "You have to do what you can."
So she did. At Radio Free Europe she was interviewed and she said that Badzyo had been "adopted" by Los Angeles journalists affiliated with Amnesty International. There wasn't much more to the interview than that, but she hoped that Badzyo's guards would hear the broadcast and tell him of it. Then Badzyo would know, she said, that the world still had not forgotten.
It does not sound like much, but to the prisoners it can be everything. They are told by their jailers that the world has forgotten them, that they are fools for suffering so. So it is important to let the prisoners know that someone still remembers. Jacobo Timmerman, who was jailed and tortured in Argentina, said that somehow word always reached his prison that one prisoner or another had been "adopted" by Amnesty. Then when their jailers mocked them, they mocked them back.
There is not much more you can do. You can not expect America to go to war for the Scharanskys and Badzyos of the world. You can not expect trade to cease and embassies to close and America to snub the Soviet Union and Chile, and Argentina, South Africa, Pakistan, South Korea, North Korea, Rumania, East Germany, El Salvador, Iran, Guatemala, China, and all the rest of the nations where people are killed or jailed for expressing their political views. That is asking too much.
But it is not asking too much on Thanksgiving to simply remember the countless thousands who are political prisoners. It is not asking too much to let them know some way that they have not been forgotten. It would not upset the balance of terror, the world order, the Geneva talks, to let the oppressive governments know that we will, in some way, hold them accountable for the way they treat their people.
There is nothing more to say. A column is supposed to have a point, I know, but this one does not. It is just another newspaper story to be put in the Scharansky file in the hopes that one of them--or word of one of them--will somehow breach the prison walls. The stories have to keep coming. Otherwise, his jailers will write the final one.