In the ’80s, the U.S. Senate renamed the street outside the Soviet Embassy Sakharov Plaza to protest the dissident’s treatment. It’s time to give similar reminders to today’s dictatorships, James Kirchick .
Renaming the streets, squares, and plazas outside Russian embassies and consulates after Magnitsky is the brainchild of David Keyes, executive director of the innovative advocacy organization Advancing Human Rights. Last month in New York, he confronted Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the plight of Majid Tavakoli (right), a leading student activist and political dissident imprisoned by the Iranian government since 2009. .. Keyes’s piece inspired thousands of Iranians to confront their foreign minister on social media about Tavakoli’s plight; two weeks later, Takavoli was freed.
Keyes calls his project “Dissident Squared,” a name that evokes both the physical dimension of its purpose and its ability to multiply the notoriety of imprisoned dissidents and confront their jailers head on.
“It will help concentrate the minds of dictatorships wonderfully well,” says Irwin Cotler, former attorney general of Canada and counsel for Nelson Mandela and Natan Sharansky, among others.
Cotler recalls a conversation he had with Gorbachev years after the Soviet authorities decided to release Sharansky, then the most famous of the Soviet Jewish refuseniks who had campaigned for the right to emigrate.
“I never knew anything about Sharansky,”Gorbachev told Cotler. “I never even knew the name. I came to Canada as the minister of agriculture, and I appeared before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee on agriculture, but instead of getting questions about agriculture, I got questions about Sharansky. I left the Parliament building and saw placards of Sharansky. Wherever I went I was confronted by Sharansky. So I came back to the Soviet Union and I said, ‘Who is this guy Sharansky?’ I got the files and said, ‘Well, he might have been a troublemaker, but he isn’t a criminal,’ so we ordered his release. It wasn’t worth the international price we paid.”