The Corner

Naming Names: The Importance

Regarding events in Cuba, have a snippet of an Associated Press report:

Asked by an American television reporter about political prisoners in Cuba, Castro seemed oblivious, first saying he couldn’t hear the question, then asking whether it was directed to him or Obama. Eventually he pushed back, saying if the journalist could offer up names of anyone allegedly imprisoned, “they will be released before tonight ends.”

“What political prisoners? Give me a name or names,” Castro said defiantly as Cuban citizens watched on state television. He added later, “It’s not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general.”

Human-rights groups have provided lists (for example here). I am reminded of Andrei Sakharov, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The Soviet government did not allow him to travel to Oslo, but his wife, Yelena Bonner, happened to be abroad for medical treatment. She stayed abroad and read her husband’s Nobel address.

Through her, Sakharov did something astounding toward the end of his address. He simply named names — names of political prisoners. One by one, Bonner read them off, beginning with “Plyush, Bukovsky, Glusman, Moros, Maria Semyonova, Nadeshda Svetlishnaya …” He named about a hundred names, concluding with “and many, many others.”

Raúl Castro said, “It’s not correct to ask me about political prisoners in general.” You know, he’s right, in a way. Bonner told me that it was extremely important to Sakharov to name names and cite particular cases, as opposed to talking generally about human rights. This “fulfilled a most important inner need for Sakharov,” she said.

To read about this, you may consult my history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Peace, They Say.

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