TODAY, Natan Sharansky is Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Housing and Construction. Before he immigrated to Israel in 1986, Sharansky endured almost a decade in Soviet prisons and gulags as a prisoner of conscience. (He recounts the inferno in his memoir, Fear No Evil.)
Along with names such as Bukovsky, Glazov, Nudel, Sakharov, Slepak, and Solzhenitsyn, Sharansky is synonymous with dissidence against Soviet tyranny. To say his name evokes the heroic struggle for Russian emancipation from totalitarianism.
The Soviet Union is a defunct slave regime, but Communist Cuba is a very existent one. Just as Soviet Russia had a Sharansky, so does Cuba: prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet.
Like Sharansky, Biscet’s advocacy for Cuban emancipation has been open and unequivocal. Guided by the principle "No secrets," Sharansky participated in the Helsinki Watch Group to expose the Brezhnev regime’s violations of his countrymen’s rights. Biscet similarly led the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights to highlight Fidel Castro’s systematic criminality. (It was in this capacity that the regime arrested Biscet in 1999 for "insult to the symbols of the homeland" when he inverted a Cuban flag to symbolize distress.)
Like Sharansky, Biscet has a Biblical sensibility; Christianity animates his advocacy for human rights as Judaism animated Sharansky’s. In lockstep with its Soviet progenitor, Communist Cuba detests Biscet’s faith. While imprisoned for what will be two years this November, authorities have withheld Biscet’s Bible in the attempt to dispirit him. (Soviet authorities deprived Sharansky of the Psalm book his wife gave him.)
Like Sharansky, Biscet’s faith gives him fortitude through abuses that include 42 days in solitary confinement for holding a hunger strike. (Sharansky also held hunger strikes, his cumulative solitary confinement reaching over 400 days.) Early during imprisonment, Sharansky composed a prayer in Hebrew he repeated "like a psalm" until his release. In a letter Biscet gave his wife this July, he counsels resistance to tyranny "in the path of God, and God will give you joy as He did for Esther and Ruth, and I will wait like Job."
Like Sharansky, Biscet enjoys chess. As an optimist, I envision these brothers in liberty playing a few games in a free Cuba, a Cuba where people are not severed from their families and livelihoods and treated like animals for affirming their inalienable rights.