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Themes Why I Became a Dissident

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Narrated by President George W. Bush

VO: In our time, freedom has great historical momentum. But it is not an impersonal force. It always advances through the choices and courage of individuals. A freedom revolution often begins in a few minds, a few hearts – among men and women who risk everything for the sake of a universal ideal. They reject the counsel of fear, apathy and despair. They accept sacrifices for a future they may not live to see. And they are capable of unsuspected greatness.

During meetings in the Oval Office I was eager to hear their stories – and now the Bush Institute is collecting these stories in interviews conducted around the world. We have asked men and women who have inspired others to describe what inspired them. What ignited the fuse of their outrage and resistance? Why did they accept the difficult calling of a dissident’s life?

Khin Ohmar of Burma explains her decades of activism.

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It was already in my blood as a person, is – for me, is whenever I see something, injustice, happen in front of me, whether it happened to me or someone else, I cannot take it. So when I was studying chemistry in my final year at the university, I come to be in a group of students who were simply demanding for the true release of a student, a fellow student who was shot and killed by the police without any reason, really. This is a complete injustice. And I cannot take it. So that was the first time I decided that I will do something about it.

VO: Dissidents are often motivated by a passion for truth and a refusal to participate in the lies that prop up tyrannical governments.

Ammar Abdulhamid was a writer and activist in Syria.


Many people said, "This is selfish on your part. Because the consequences can be borne by your family." But I also said to them in reply, "The consequences of their silence have been borne by me. And are being borne by all of you, also." So silence has consequences. Not rocking the boat has consequences. And the consequences of not rocking the boat, it may not be the dramatic death that we see when people take to the street. It may not be arrests. But it's a death of hope.

VO: Ariel Sigler Amaya was a boxing coach in Cuba.


They would start telling me things I had to relay to students in my classes. I had to raise my hand when I did not want to raise my hand. They wanted me to laugh when I did not want to laugh. These things really bothered me. And I had to lie, when I did not want to lie to my students. I did not agree with these things. Because I was raised under a communist regime, I was obliged to teach communist ideas to those students. And I faced a lot of problems, a lot of difficulties, because of the position I took to demand the rights and freedoms that Cubans deserve.

VO: Democratic activists often speak of self-respect – a feeling that they could no longer participate in a failing, degrading system that was undermining their dignity and the dignity of their country. Vaclav Havel, the great Czech freedom fighter, made this point clearly.


I think that a very important thing, which I always repeat when I speak with dissidents from those countries where a certain kind of dictatorship still exists, that a very important thing was the good feeling that we were doing something right, something that should be done, that we were not, we did not have that unpleasant feeling of a certain uncleanness, a grubbiness, resulting from the fact that we compromise or we do not say what we really think, that we bend, we conform to the pressure.

VO: The path of most dissidents leads through some desolate places, where hope comes hard. Many find comfort in a power greater than any government.

Pastor Bob Fu of China recalls his dark night of the soul as a student activist.


When the real bullets started shooting, when the tanks were ordered to crush many of the innocent citizens, including students – all over, you know – student leaders' dreams were broken. It was during that time I came to Christian faith, I accepted Christ as my savior and Lord. Because I just lost hope. In myself and in the political system, in the party-- in general, even in human beings. And I was deeply despaired and disappointed. And you know, thinking, you know, how can I really make my dream come true? How can I change the society by changing the government?

VO: In the past several decades, we have seen, again and again, that courage and vision can be more powerful than all the guns and lies of an oppressive government. We have seen how the sudden illumination of a single conscience can be the turning point in the history of a nation.

It is our privilege and duty to recognize and help courageous advocates of freedom around the world. Our message to them is clear: When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you. 

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