Jeane Kirkpatrick???s untimely passing last week launched a multitude of essays on her ideas and influence on the freedom movement around the world. For me and my family, her ideas and words changed our lives.
In December 1979, when I was 9 years old, my parents, grandmother, 9-month-old brother and I surrendered our Soviet passports, boarded a train on the western edge of the Soviet Union and headed to a largely unknown to us part of the world??????the West.??? As political refugees, with neither a way back nor guarantees for the future, we had only one desire???to flee the ???Evil Empire.??? We were permitted to leave with some personal belongings, which we would ultimately have to sell on the street markets of Vienna, Austria, and a little cash (enough to keep food on the table for 2-3 weeks). As were many other victims of communism around the world, we were leaving behind our homes, our families, our friends, modest savings, and all that was familiar to us to begin life from scratch.
Our exit from the Soviet Union was possible largely due to a key piece of U.S. foreign policy legislation, which most Americans never heard of???the Jackson-Vanik amendment. This provision required the Soviet Union to ease its freedom of emigration policy in return for the ???Most Favored Nation??? trade status with the United States.
I first heard of Jeane Kirkpatrick when I was a small child in the USSR listening to adult conversations that praised her for her staunch patriotism and unfaltering championing of freedom. Two years ago, when I met her by chance, and shared my story about leaving the Soviet Union, she told me in a very warm, modest and unassuming manner about her integral role in the conceptualization and passing of this the Jackson-Vanik amendment. She told me how extremely grateful she was to hear my story. When I met her a year later, she immediately recalled our conversation and we shared some time discussing the fundamental impact of words and ideas on people???s lives.
My father, a highly respected scientist, endured numerous wearisome and degrading interrogations by the KGB for his close association with anti-Communist dissidents and human rights advocates. Had we not boarded that train in December 1979, almost to the day, I may have grown up without a parent, in the confines of an evil regime that my family for several generations tried to escape. If it had not been for the United States??? undeterrable anti-communist tenacity under the guidance of Dr. Kirkpatrick and others like her, I cringe to think of the consequences to mankind.
Kirkpatrick???s strong, moral voice of unbending anti-Communist resolve inspired hundreds of thousands of dissidents in the USSR and worldwide to press on. In tiny, dark Soviet apartments, families huddled around transistor short-wave radios secretly to listen to moments salvaged in-spite of persistent Soviet jamming of Voice of America, Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle or BBC to hear America speak with Kirkpatrick???s voice. She spoke of universal human values in words that no one in communist countries dared to utter: individualism, freedom, democracy, human rights, economic liberty, and the spirit of enterprise. Kirkpatrick, through her words of resilience re-affirmed the goodness of humanity and freedom that was attainable by overcoming the hypocrisy of dictatorship and autocracy.
Thanks to individual champions of freedom such as Kirkpatrick, people like me can live in freedom without fear of retribution for earning a living or perishing in the Gulag as hundreds of thousands did in the Soviet Union. Dr. Kirkpatrick instilled the spirit of freedom in each of us that will last for generations and carry the torch of liberty in her absence.