35 years ago, in February 1986, on the Glienicke Bridge in West Berlin, five Soviet spies were exchanged for Natan Sharansky, who became a symbol of the struggle for freedom and human rights in the Soviet Union.
The story of Natan Sharansky, my great friend, is the story of the Soviet state’s anti-Semitism in its most striking manifestation. The “refuseniks” of the 1970s-1980s, most of whom were Jews, were not only denied exit visas but also doomed themselves to real prison terms for wanting to leave the Soviet Union.
Sentenced to 13 years on charges of high treason in 1977, Sharansky spent eight years in prison, half of the term — in solitary confinement.
In order to maintain his sanity while being in a solitary cell, the talented chess player played chess games in his mind and repeated many times all the episodes of his staying in the Gulag, which after his release he would describe in detail in his memoirs ‘Fear No Evil’: “The authorities behaved as if even one, Isolated from the whole world, but unbroken dissident posed a mortal danger to the entire system.”
Further events showed that the danger to the system really existed. Under the pressure of a massive worldwide campaign demanding the release of Sharansky, the Soviet Union was forced to retreat in 1986.
And five years after the victory of Sharansky, the Soviet Union did not exist anymore.