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Former Soviet Dissidents Recall Reagan as a Man of Courage, Conviction

Washington, D.C., June 10, 2004 - Former Soviet dissidents Natan Sharansky and Yelena Bonner told the Voice of America that the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy had a great impact on the human rights movement in the former Soviet Union.

Sharansky, now a cabinet minister in the Israeli government, recalls sitting in his prison cell in 1983 and reading the Pravda headline that the American president had dared to call the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire."

"I remember what a burst of enthusiasm this gave us political prisoners. Finally, here was a Western leader willing to call things as they are and expose the true essence of the Soviet Union," Sharansky said. "We dissidents always knew and felt that the most important thing was not to give in to illusions, not to be deceived by the Soviet Union. And that one day when the West finally saw the Soviet Union for what it was, there would be hope for victory."

Sharansky said that Reagan always had the courage to fight for his convictions, and it is that unique strength that ultimately led to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Today's leaders, he said, should just as clearly understand the difference between good and evil, and always be on the side of good, as Reagan always was.

Yelena Bonner, who is still a well-known human rights activist in Russia, told VOA that her late husband, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Andrei Sakharov, admired Reagan for his consistent stance, and especially his insistence that the U.S. must build up its nuclear arsenal so that America would have something to bargain with in arms negotiations. "Only then will the Soviet Union take real steps to disarm," she said. "And Andrei. . . . thought that it was necessary to place missiles in Europe as part of this disarmament strategy of having something to give away. Well, as time has shown, this was the right strategy."

The Voice of America will broadcast coverage of tomorrow's state funeral for President Ronald Reagan in 44 languages. VOA's coverage will be carried to an overseas audience on radio, TV, and the Internet (

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government. VOA broadcasts almost 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of 87 million people.

For more information, call the Office of Public Affairs at (202) 401-7000, or E-mail