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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

'The Dissidents' Conspiracy'

July 2, 2008

Part one of an interview with distinguished Hoover fellow and former
Soviet dissident Yuri Yarim-Agaev
By Nataly Teplitsky
Epoch Times, San Francisco Staff
June 16, 2008

Dr. Yuri Yarim-Agaev, a physicist and one of the leaders of the human
rights movement of the former Soviet Union, was forced into exile
before the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Upon his arrival in the United States, he continued his professional
work in physics at MIT, Stanford University, and Bellcore, and later
in financial analytics at Bankers Trust and Deutsche Bank in New York.

In 1984, he founded the Center for Democracy in the USSR, an advocacy
organization for persecuted dissidents in the Soviet Union supported
by the National Endowment for Democracy and various American foundations.

Dr. Yarim-Agaev continues his involvement in human rights issues
around the world. His recent publications deal with the failure of
democracy in Russia and politics in Iraq and North Korea.

The Epoch Times: At the recent Stanford conference, 'Soviet Dissident
Movement and American Foreign Policy During 1980s,' you delivered a
keynote address: 'The Dissidents' Conspiracy.' Could you please
elaborate on it?

Dr. Yuri Yarim-Agaev: Non violent resistance to the most violent
regime -- at that time, it was not trivial. Everybody, including the
Soviet government, considered us lunatics. No one could imagine that
it was possible to deal with the violent regime with bare hands.

But the words appeared to be more powerful than any arms. It turned
out to be the most productive and ingenious approach: The peaceful
replacement of the regime without fire and shots.

Whatever the strategy chosen, the main thing is a spirit behind it.
And this is the spirit of dissidence -- conspiracy of dissidents, as I call it.

At that time, in different countries, including democratic ones,
people of very similar and special spirit independently emerged.

They did not know each other personally, never coordinated their
efforts -- yet, they had so much in common in their character and
philosophy that they acted in incredible synchronicity.

It was profound mutual understanding that united those people. Their
acting in unison was due to the fact that they all were true dissidents.

The Epoch Times: If I understood you correctly, you include in their
ranks people from the West, too.

Yuri Yarim-Agaev: I use the term 'dissident' in a very broad sense. I
include in their ranks, among others, people from Reagan's
administration such as Mark Palmer and Reagan himself, as well as John Paul II.

To me, all those people were true dissidents. Take Mark Palmer as an
example. A high-level diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State, he
challenged the conventional wisdom and the established rules. What
were the established rules for high-level diplomats? Not to show too
much initiative, in the first place.

But what did the diplomat Palmer do when he was on his assignment to
Russia? On his own initiative, he took a public bus to a local prison
and to everyone's utter astonishment, asked to show him how prisoners
were being treated.

Later in his career, being an U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Mark
marched in the first row together with the leaders of Hungarian
opposition showing not a very traditional behavior of an American ambassador.

And what did Ronald Reagan do? Not only did he support Soviet
dissidents, but against the conventional wisdom, he proposed that the
Berlin wall had to be torn down. And voila, he has gotten everything
he had asked for.

These are just two examples of many other people, who were ready to
challenge the conventional wisdom and established rules.

The traditional image of dissidents presents them as noble and
sacrificial people and although heroic but not intelligent, the ones
who could not find their place in the world and as a result, resorted
themselves to a kind of reckless behavior. Maybe it was not said
directly, but I had felt it all the time during more than 20 years of
dissident experience. But there is no truth to this image.

The Epoch Times: What are the true qualities of dissidents?

Yuri Yarim-Agaev: First of all, courage, but not only courage to
withstand the severe persecution -- years of imprisonment and
psychiatric torture. I mean courage in a broad sense, the ability to
be ready to be ostracized by your friends and your peers. And that
often needs much more courage.

I mean the courage to stand for ideas, when everyone around you says
that you are wrong; the courage to challenge conventional wisdom, the
courage that manifests not only in actions but in thinking. The
courage means that you do not recklessly throw yourself into the
battle but that you pre-plan your actions, and being aware of the
consequences, you still go for that. This is a real courage.

The second most important and absolutely essential dissidents'
quality is intelligence. The dissidents won't survive unless they
were not smarter than communist authorities. If you take a look at
Moscow dissidents, you can barely find in history the group with such
a high percentage of academics, professors, famous writers, artists.

The intellectual community does not want to acknowledge these
qualities. It did not want to give us a credit for being courageous
and intelligent because it challenged the comfortable status quo of
their community. Their argument was: "We have to save ourselves for
posterity. You go ahead and sacrifice."

The Epoch Times: But wasn't there a famous scientist Andrei Sakharov
among dissidents?

Yuri Yarim-Agaev: Sakharov was one of the greatest challenges to the
intellectual community because his credentials were the greatest and
yet he stood with us in all the trials until the KGB had deported him
to Gorky. He did not want to save himself for posterity, but rather
behaved according to his conscience and morals, which were more
important for him than anything else.

This brings up the next very important dissidents' quality --
adherence to basic moral principles. For example, your friends are
arrested and speaking on their behalf and trying to rescue them seems
to be so natural that it is impossible to argue with it, but it was
totally suppressed in the ideological communist society. So standing
for basic moral principles is critical to dissident movement.

The remainder of this interview with The Epoch Times will be
published in a separate, forthcoming article.
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