(photo credit: Andrs Kovacs)
BUDAPEST – It was the sort of reception you would expect a rock star to receive,
not the author of a book on political theory.
But when Natan Sharansky –
whose 2004 manifesto The Case for Democracy was published in Hungarian this week
– walked into a lecture hall packed with about 1,000 pro-Israel evangelicals on
Wednesday, they gave the former Soviet dissident and current chairman of the
Jewish Agency a round of applause so loud they almost brought the house
The famously diminutive Russian- born Jewish leader stood waiting
on stage for several minutes before the well-groomed, clean-shaven
the Pentecostal Faith Church settled down to listen to him speak of his
with the Politburo for the right to make aliya.
Hundreds of admirers who
couldn’t get into the main room gathered in an adjacent hall where his
was being televised live on a big screen.
“Some of you my age remember
the double talk of Communism,” Sharansky said, striking a chord with the
members of the audience, who grew up in a country which was firmly under
Soviet sphere of influence.
“I remember the day I became aware of it. My
father told me Stalin is dead; it’s a joyous day for Jews. But he said
school I must do what everybody else does. So I cried for Stalin and I
songs for him, just like everyone else.”
On Thursday Sharansky and his
entourage were received by Hungarian President Pal Schmitt at his palace
overlooking the Danube for a brief breakfast meeting and photo-op.
emphatic welcome the Jewish Agency head has received in Hungary on his
visit to promote his book and open an Israeli cultural center is rare
It illustrates how much he is internationally
respected – especially in right-wing or neo-conservative circles.The
Case for Democracy
has so far sold over 150,000 copies worldwide and was
famously endorsed by US president George W. Bush.
In a conversation with
The Jerusalem Post, Sharansky said he recently turned down a lucrative
have his book translated into Chinese because of the publisher’s demand
remove China from a list of countries he mentions where freedoms are
“There were two references to China and they wanted to take
them out,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, it doesn’t damage the content but it
the idea of freedom of speech.’” Asked if he had another book in the
Sharansky said his top priority at the moment was the Jewish Agency.
leadership the 81-year-old Zionist group, which some say has outlived
usefulness, has recalibrated its mission from focusing mostly on aliya
promoting Jewish identity around the world.
But Sharansky hinted that he
might have an idea for a future book based on his current work.
books are written on my experiences. So being Jewish Agency head and
Jews around the world, I have a lot of material,” he said.