Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Elena Bonner speaks

On 19 May 2009, Elena Bonner, widow of great scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, friend and colleague of Natan Sharansky, and an outstanding human rights activist in her own right, spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

Excerpts of her eloquent address [with my emphasis added - SL] are posted below. Read the full text in the Kathy Young Blog, May 20, 2009.

Please, you MUST take the time to read these excerpts, if not the full speech....

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends...

... summing up my life (at age 86, I try to sum up my life every day I am still alive), I can do so in three words. My life was typical, tragic, and beautiful. Whoever needs the details — read my two books, Alone Together and Mothers and Daughters. They have been translated into many languages. Read Sakharov’s Memoirs. It’s a pity his Diaries haven’t been translated; they were published in Russia in 2006. Apparently, the West isn’t interested in Sakharov right now.

The West isn’t very interested in Russia either, a country that no longer has real elections, independent courts, or freedom of the press. Russia is a country where journalists, human rights activists, and migrants are killed regularly, almost daily. And extreme corruption flourishes of a kind and extent that never existed earlier in Russia or anywhere else.

So what do the Western mass media discuss mainly? Gas and oil — of which Russia has a lot. Energy is its only political trump card, and Russia uses it as an instrument of pressure and blackmail. And there’s another topic that never disappears from the newspapers — who rules Russia? Putin or Medvedev? But what difference does it make, if Russia has completely lost the impulse for democratic development that we thought we saw in the early 1990s? Russia will remain the way it is now for decades, unless there is some violent upheaval.

... It seems to me that the world has become more alarming, more unpredictable, and more fragile. ...

... there is no end to the conferences, summits, forums, and competitions from beauty contests to sandwich eating ones. They say people are coming together — but in reality, they are growing apart.

And that isn’t because an economic depression suddenly burst forth, and swine flu to boot. This began on September 11, 2001. At first, anger and horror was provoked by the terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and by their accomplices in London, Madrid and other cities, and by the shaheeds, suicide bombers who blew themselves up at public spaces like discotheques and wedding parties whose families were rewarded $25,000 each by Saddam Hussein.

Later, Bush was blamed for everything, and as always, the Jews — that is, Israel. An example was the first Durban Conference, and the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe, noted several years ago in a speech by Romano Prodi. Then there was Durban-2; the main speaker was Ahmadinejad proposing to annihilate Israel.

So it is about Israel and the Jews that I will speak. And not only because I am Jewish, but above all because the Middle Eastern conflict since the end of World War II has been a platform for political games and gambling by the great powers, the Arab countries and individual politicians, striving, through the so-called “peace process,” to make a name for themselves, and perhaps win a Nobel Peace Prize. At one time, the Nobel Peace Prize was the highest moral award of our civilization. But after December 1994, when Yasir Arafat became one of the three new laureates, its ethical value was undermined. I haven’t always greeted each selection of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting with joy, but that one shocked me. And to this day, I cannot understand and accept the fact that Andrei Sakharov and Yasir Arafat, now posthumously, share membership in the club of Nobel laureates.

...Here are several citations from Sakharov:

  • “Israel has an indisputable right to exist.”

  • “Israel has a right to existence within safe borders.”

  • “All the wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders.”

  • “With all the money that has been invested in the problem of Palestinians, it would have been possible long ago to resettle them and provide them with good lives in Arab countries.”

Throughout the years of Israel’s existence there has been war. Victorious wars, and also wars which Israel was not allowed to win. Each and every day — literally every day — there is the expectation of a terrorist act or a new war. We have seen the Oslo Peace Initiatives and the Camp-David Hand-shake and the Road-map and Land for Peace (there is not much land — from one side of Israel on a clear day you can see the other side with the naked eye).

Now, there is a new (actually, quite old) motif currently in fashion (in fact it’s an old one):

“Two states for two peoples.”

It sounds good...

.... the plan “two states for two peoples” is the creation of one state, ethnically cleansed of Jews, and a second one with the potential to do the same thing. A Judenfrei Holy Land - the dream of Adolph Hitler come true at last. So think again, those who are still able, who has a fascist inside him today?

And another question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It’s a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit trouble you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?

... during the two years Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Shalit’s rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Shalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents?

And yet I still think (and some will find this naïve) that the first tiny, but real step toward peace must become the release of Shalit. Release — not exchange for 1000 or 1,500 prisoners who are in Israeli prisons serving court sentences for real crimes.

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.

Thirty-four years have passed since the day when I came to this city to represent my husband, Andrei Sakharov, at the 1975 Nobel Prize ceremony. I was in love with Norway then. The reception I received filled me with joy. Today, I feel Alarm and Hope (the title Sakharov used for his 1977 essay written at the request of the Nobel Committee).

Alarm because of the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment growing throughout Europe and even further afield. And yet, I hope that countries, their leaders, and people everywhere will recall and adopt Sakharov’s ethical credo: “In the end, the moral choice turns out to be also the most pragmatic choice.”

See the full text of Elena's speech, in English here. The original Russian text is here.

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