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Friday, August 19, 2011

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The beginning of the end of the Cold War

By , Guide

On June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke the people of West Berlin at the base of the Brandenburg Gate, near the Berlin wall. Due to the amplification system being used, the President's words could also be heard on the Eastern (Communist-controlled) side of the wall. The address Reagan delivered that day is considered by many to have affirmed the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism. On Nov. 9-11, 1989, the people of a free Berlin tore down that wall.

Of all his speeches, Ronald Reagan's "tear down that wall," address may well become the "Great Communicator's" best remembered. The following is an excerpt from President Reagan's address.

"In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: 'We will bury you.' But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

"And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

"Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'"

A transcript of the entire address can be found on the Reagan Foundation Website at:

This is what he was referring to - a system of repression so evil that today it is only equaled by what is done to the Palestinians and the Dalits of India.

Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag

The term “GULAG” is an acronym for the Soviet bureaucratic institution, Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh LAGerei (Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps), that operated the Soviet system of forced labor camps in the Stalin era. Since the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in 1973, the term has come to represent the entire Soviet forced labor penal system. Concentration camps were created in the Soviet Union shortly after the 1917 revolution, but the system grew to tremendous proportions during the course of Stalin’s campaign to turn the Soviet Union into a modern industrial power and to collectivize agriculture in the early 1930s.

Gulag camps existed throughout the Soviet Union, but the largest camps lay in the most extreme geographical and climatic regions of the country from the Arctic north to the Siberian east and the Central Asian south. Prisoners were engaged in a variety of economic activities, but their work was typically unskilled, manual, and economically inefficient. The combination of endemic violence, extreme climate, hard labor, meager food rations and unsanitary conditions led to extremely high death rates in the camps.

While the Gulag was radically reduced in size following Stalin’s death in 1953, forced labor camps and political prisoners continued to exist in the Soviet Union right up to the Gorbachev era.

End of excerpt from: Introduction: Stalin’s Gulag


Putin's Political Prisoners

In its Soviet heyday, Moscow's dreaded Lefortovo prison served as a way station to the Gulag for political prisoners such as Yevgenia Ginzburg, Vladimir Bukovsky and Natan Sharansky. Under Vladimir Putin, it performs exactly the same function.

In December, Russian scientist Igor Reshetin was sentenced to 11½ years in a "strict regime" prison colony on charges of having sold dual-use technologies to China for its space programs. In 1996, Mr. Reshetin's company, TsNIIMASh-Export, was contracted to supply China with a series of technical reports, mostly dealing with the re-entry of spaceships into earth's atmosphere. The deal, worth about $30 million, represented about half of Russia's space-related exports to China at the time; business was expected to grow to about $100 million a year. In 2002, Mr. Reshetin submitted his reports to two expert government commissions, which certified that they contained no classified information.

[Igor Reshetin]

By the next year, however, TsNIIMASh-Export was under investigation by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor. In 2005, Mr. Reshetin, who suffers from heart disease, was remanded to Lefortovo, where he and a colleague spent two years before sentencing. During his trial, 62 publicly available monographs were produced to demonstrate that no secret information had been disclosed. "I have seen all the reports sent to China," Alexander Kraiko, a head of department at a Russian technical institute, told the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. "The information they contain was published in widely accessed print [publications] in Russian and in the U.S.A."

Given current conditions in Russia's penal colonies, which I described in this column last week, Mr. Reshetin's conviction amounts to a death sentence. Convicted with him are business associates Sergei Vizir (11 years), Mikhail Ivanov (five years), and Alexander Rozhkin (five years). Another business associate, Sergei Tverdokhlebov, spent two months in Lefortovo, signed a "voluntary confession," and died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.

Why were the authorities so hell-bent on punishing Mr. Reshetin? One theory is that Mr. Rashetin simply fell afoul a local FSB agent eager to justify his pay and win advancement by taking down a "spy." An almost identical scenario played out against another scientist, Valentin Danilov, who in 2004 was sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony on bogus charges of passing "secret" information to the Chinese -- information that had been declassified years earlier.

[Igor Sutyagin]

Even more strained was the case against Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' prestigious Institute for the Study of the United States and Canada, who was accused of illicitly disclosing details about Russia's nuclear posture. His "spying," too, amounted to a paper he had written based on open-source information (including speeches by Russia's own defense minister). Yet that didn't prevent a court from handing down a 15-year sentence. Similar convictions for "spying" have been handed down to at least four others: Anatoly Babkin; Oskar Kaibyshev; Vladimir Shchurov and Grigory Pasko.

The second theory about Mr. Reshetin's case is that he fell victim to the Kremlin's habit of criminalizing its (business) competitors: in this case the state-owned arms-maker Rosvoorushenie, which Novaya Gazeta speculates may have wanted a piece of a lucrative market that Mr. Reshetin was inconveniently making his own.

[Svetlana Bakhmina]

If so, that makes the case similar to that of former energy giant Yukos, whose assets were looted by Gazprom and other Kremlin-connected entities in 2004. While former CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky's indefinite imprisonment in a Siberian penal colony has attracted widespread media notice, less attention is paid to the 41 other Yukos defendants. One of them, lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, was arrested in 2004 on charges of tax evasion and forbidden from speaking to her two young children for nearly six months. In 2006, her request to have her sentence suspended until her youngest child turns 14 was denied; instead, she was immediately transferred to a penal colony several hundred miles south of Moscow, where she is serving a 6½ year sentence.

Then there is the case of Vasily Aleksanyan, another Yukos lawyer, who was diagnosed with HIV shortly after his 2006 arrest. Russian authorities refused to treat him throughout most of his nearly 700-day pretrial detention; he is now being held in a medical facility, handcuffed to his bed. Drew Holiner, Mr. Aleksanyan's lawyer, says the authorities' motive is to force his client "to give false testimony against former colleagues in return for some form of deal." Their gambit may not succeed, since Mr. Aleksanyan is said to be suffering from an AIDS-related lymphoma and may soon die.

Though smaller in scope and ferocity, the Yukos case shares some of the notorious characteristics of a Soviet purge, particularly the effort to manufacture a "conspiracy" by bringing charges against a wide array of individuals.

[Larisa Ivanovna Arap]

The Soviet touch is also in evidence in the case of Larisa Ivanovna Arap. A member of Garry Kasparov's United Civic Front, Ms. Arap had campaigned on behalf of abused children in Russia's psychiatric hospitals. Last July, she herself was involuntarily detained at a psychiatric hospital on account of a critical article she had written, "shot up with psychotropic drugs," according to her husband, and held for over a month. Though she was released after public protest, a local district court issued the opinion that her hospitalization had been perfectly legal. As in the Soviet period, mere criticism of the performance of a state institution may now suffice as evidence of mental derangement.

In her acclaimed history of the Gulag, Anne Applebaum observes that under Stalin one could easily get arrested "for nothing," whereas under his successors arrests usually happened "for something -- if not for a genuine criminal act, then for . . . literary, religious, or political opposition to the Soviet system." Of the many things that make present trends in Russia so worrying, surely one is that the line between "something" and "nothing" is becoming increasingly blurred.

From: Opinion Journal.Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A18. Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

All copyrighted sources are quoted and used for comment and education in accord with the nonprofit provisions of: Title 17 U.S.C., Section 107.

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