The Corner

Naming Names

Can I tell you about one of the neatest things I know? In 2008, Eli Lake was invited to go on Press TV, the English-language arm of the Iranian dictatorship. Lake is a prominent American political journalist. When it was his turn to speak — on whatever the topic was scheduled to be — he simply started to list the names of Iranian political prisoners.

What dissidents in dungeons most want is to be remembered, talked about, not forgotten. What they most fear is to suffer and die in oblivion. Their jailers want them forgotten.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was revered in the Soviet Union because, on the floor of the U.N., she named the names of Soviet political prisoners. Word of this penetrated the Gulag, lifting the spirits of the inmates: They were not forgotten.

In my “Nobel Nuggets” today, I speak of Andrei Sakharov’s Nobel lecture, in 1975. He was not able to give it in person. The Soviet government would not let him out. But his wife and fellow dissident, Elena Bonner, was able to be there. It was she who read the address.

Toward the end, Sakharov did something stunning: He started naming names of political prisoners. He just launched into a list: “Plyush, Bukovsky, Glusman, Moros, Maria Semyonova, Nadeshda Svetlishnaya . . .” After he had named about a hundred names, he said, “and many, many others.”

In an interview, Bonner told me that “the listing of names brought joy to the prisoners of conscience, and to their relatives. More important, it somewhat protected them from the camp administration. Besides, listing specific people, and caring about a particular person, as opposed to general arguments about human rights, fulfilled a most important inner need for Sakharov.”

To order my new history of the Nobel Peace Prize direct from National Review, go here. You can have a signature and an inscription — or “a rare unsigned copy.”


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