The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror

November 9, 2004

The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky

Introduction

JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to say how extremely honored we are to have with us this morning Natan Sharansky on the occasion of his recently published book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

In reflecting on the challenges facing democracy in the 21st century, Margaret Thatcheronce wrote, "It is always true that the world that is can best be understood by those conversant with the world that was. None are more conversant with the realities of the Cold War, or more adept at drawing out its lessons for today, than those who saw it—not just lived through it, but actually saw it for what it was—from the inside."

It is with this in mind that we extend a very special welcome to our speaker this morning, Natan Sharansky. From Gulag to guru, Mr. Sharansky's life has personified the struggle for human rights and the ongoing pursuit of dignity for all mankind. Our guest today is a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner who has spent his life championing democracy. For him, the word "democracy" is one he feels and writes passionately about, as only one who has suffered painfully by its absence truly can.

While many of you are familiar with Mr. Sharansky's life in the Soviet Union, others may not be as knowledgeable. He was born in Ukraine and studied mathematics in Moscow. Natan Sharansky first came to the world's attention in the early 1970s when he joined the great Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharovas a leading human rights advocate. Initially he served as an English language interpreter for Mr. Sakharov, but he soon emerged as a leading spokesman for Soviet Jews, like himself, who hoped to immigrate to Israel.

In 1978, he was convicted on trumped-up charges of treason and spying for the United States and sentenced to thirteen years in prison. After serving nine years in the Siberian Gulag, experiences which have been recorded in his remarkable memoir, Fear No Evil, he was released in a U.S.-Soviet prisoner exchange and moved to Israel. There he founded a political party to aid other Soviet dissidents like himself so that their integration into Israeli society would become easier than it had been for him.

As a politician in Israel, our guest has served in several different governments, holding various positions, including Deputy Prime Minister. He has played a key role in government decision-making and has participated in recent peace negotiations. Currently, he serves as the Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

In his new book, The Case for Democracy, Mr. Sharansky, with his co-writer Ron Dermer, who is with us today, passionately argues that spreading democracy everywhere is not only possible but is essential to the survival of our civilization. To achieve this end he believes that the democratic world will need the clarity to differentiate between the worlds of freedom and fear and the courage to confront those societies that foster only terror. In the end, he argues, we can accomplish this by recognizing that the great divide between these two different worlds is more important than the divisions within the free world.

Please join me in welcoming our guest this morning, Natan Sharansky. Thank you.

Remarks

NATAN SHARANSKY:Thank you, Madam Chairman. Friends, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

The book that I wrote with Ron Dermer is dedicated to Andrei Sakharov, who invented non-conventional weapons in the Soviet Union, weapons of mass destruction. As a young scientist, he believed that this was his contribution to the stability of the world. He became by far the most decorated scientist in the Soviet Union, one of the most respected persons who lived in luxury under Communism.

And then, when he understood his mistake, when he understood that that is not the way to achieve peace and stability in the world, he started using another type of weapon, which happened to be non-conventional for the Soviet Union—he spoke the truth.

It is not accidental that this book, which is only partially based on our experience, is dedicated to him. We all recognize and understand the power of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, but also appreciate and recognize the power of weapons of mass construction which we in the free world possess: the power of freedom and democracy to change the world and to overcome tyranny and terrorism.

We wrote this book because these major questions of our youth in the Soviet Union are again on the agenda with the same type of skepticism which we have heard so many times from the leaders of the Western world about the Soviet Union. The case for democracy is the case for those who are skeptical and who raise the same three types of questions.

1) The first group of questions is whether democracy is for everybody, whether it's not simply too na?ve to think that what is good for us in the free world can also be good for people with different mentalities and cultures.

2) Even if we agree that it is good for everybody, is it secure for everybody? Is it secure for us in the free world to build democracies in dangerous places in the world, maybe to pave the road for some awful regime?

3) Even if we decide that it is good for everybody, even if we decide that it's not dangerous for anybody, is there a role for free society to play? Is it something which can be imposed on the other people?

Returning now to the first question, if it is good for everybody, where is the history to prove it?

There is a historical answer to this question, because I well remember the times when we, the Soviet dissidents had to challenge the representatives of the leaders of the free world who were telling us, "We understand your desire, we understand your dream, to change this regime. But you have to understand you are very unlucky. You were born in the Soviet Union, in Russia, where for thousands of years there has been a dictatorship, and it will remain so. You cannot decide for these people if they will live in democracy."

I remember Sakharov again and again trying to explain that people in Russia want to live in freedom no less than anybody else. But do they really have an opportunity? Is the policy of the West helping to solve this?

I can give you examples of how the closest advisors of President Truman in 1945 explained that there will never be democracy in Japan, that we cannot decide for a civilization, which is thousands of years old, that they will be a democracy. Is it right that we the American army are now trying to destroy all the remnants of militarism, in the hope that it will be part of a democratic road?

Even if history is on our side, people say, "But you know the Arab world is different. Twenty-two countries where there was never democracy." And look what the Arab people themselves are saying, how hopeless it is.

Our approach in the book is not simply historical. I firmly believe that democracy is for everybody because I lived in a totalitarian regime, and I know the mechanics of tyranny.

All societies can be divided into only two categories, free societies and fear societies.

What is the criterion? What is a democracy? I take the definition, or test, which was very natural for us. In the Soviet prison, sometimes in one cell you could find Russian monarchists and Euro-communists and priests from Lithuania who wanted reconnection with the Pope, and Pentacostals, and Muslims who were exiled to Siberia, and many others. It was clear that for all of these people the world looked different and the changes that they wanted to bring to this world were equally different.

But it was absolutely clear for all of us that the society in which we want to live is one in which dissent is permitted. I call it a town square test, whether you can go to the town square and express your views, whatever they are, and not be punished, not be put in prison. If so, it is a free society. If not, it is a fear society.

We can imagine a society where everybody agrees about some ideology, so dissent is not permitted but nobody wants dissent. Now, theoretically, you can build such a model. In fact, such models have existed.

If you take the early kibbutz movement, all the people believed in a communist way of life. But, very quickly, children didn't want to live exactly like their parents, and people had different faiths, mentalities, and ambitions. And then the question is whether expression of dissent is permitted. Even if it is permitted, rather quickly these societies evolve into something different. Today's kibbutz has nothing to do with the kibbutz of seventy years ago, even twenty-five years ago.

If it is not permitted, it very quickly becomes a fear society. In all fear societies there are three groups of people: true believers who believe in the official ideology of the society; dissidents who are ready to challenge, to speak openly, and to be punished for it; and double-thinkers.

As for dissidents, some people say, "This is the best proof that Arabs are not good for democracy. There are no dissidents." How many dissidents were there in Stalin'sRussia in the 1930s? We don't know their names because they were killed first.

Dissidence is always a function of the toughness, of the punishment, of the regime. If the regime kills every dissident, there will be no dissidents.

The moment a regime like the Soviet Union, for different reasons, and partially because of pressure from the West, decreased its punishment from immediate killing to imprisonment for seven years, immediately there were hundreds of dissidents.

But dissidents are always only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the population are double-thinkers. That means people who already have problems, or doubts, or are in deep disagreement with the regime, but are afraid to express it.

I can pinpoint the moment when it happened to me. I was five years old. Stalin died. My father, making sure that the neighbors didn't hear us, told me and my elder brother, "Stalin died. He was an awful butcher. He killed a lot of people. He was going to deport us Jews to Siberia and other places. Probably now it will not happen. Probably we are saved. The miracle has happened. You should remember it all your life. But don't tell anybody. Do what everybody does."

The next morning I went to kindergarten, and there was crying and singing of songs about the great leader of all the people, Comrade Stalin.

That is the typical life of a double-thinker, which I started at five years old and, like many other Soviet people, lived for for many years. For outside observers it's impossible to even see. It looks like a society where everybody is a true believer. But this is a process which is moving only in one direction. In a fear society, the number of true believers changes and the number of double-thinkers goes up.

It seems that they are almost non-existent because all their lives they have to take an oath to demonstrate loyalty, to cry with everybody, to laugh with everybody, to work with everybody, to speak about their loyalty to the regime; but in fact they are non-believers, they are double-thinkers. In the Soviet Union back then, practically everybody was.

Today in Iran, the overwhelming majority are double-thinkers, and this changed in one generation. It shows how quickly the situation can shift.

It is important to understand that the moment people stop their life of double-think, because of dissent or simply because the fear society falls apart, they start saying what they think and they stop being afraid, stop controlling themselves, stop this life of self-censorship.

It is a tremendous relief, as if you had had a great burden on your shoulders, and you don't understand, you don't know life without this burden. You think it's impossible otherwise. Then you stop, throw it away, and suddenly you feel liberated.

That is exactly the feeling of people when suddenly they move from a constant life of fear to a life of freedom. That is the reason why in the end Japanese, Germans and Russians chose freedom from the moment they could choose. They want to live in accordance with their tradition, and nobody can say that Japan betrayed the thousand years of their civilization for the sake of American tradition. They are completely and very successfully able to keep their own tradition. But they don't want to live in fear.

And those who are saying today about Russia, "But Russians want to go back." Russians want more stability, and there are many problems with the democratic process, but to say that the Russian people because of the problems of today want to go back to a fear society is like saying that black people want to return to slavery because of crime and social problems today.

When given the choice whether to go back to living under constant fear and self-censorship or living in freedom, they will choose to live under freedom. That is why freedom in this sense of the word is good for everybody, why every people in the world will choose in the end a society which permits dissent.

The second question: But isn't it dangerous? Isn't it unstable for some other people? For us it's good to be in freedom and democracy, but if we are talking about countries where fundamentalists can raise their head, do we want a democratic government? Isn't it better to guarantee stability by finding your own dictator?

Here it is important to understand why dictators can never be reliable partners. I remember conversations going back to our dissident youth and our explanations to the world. Sakharov said again and again, you cannot trust leaders who don't trust their own people. He explained that what was important for the West is not how this or that leader treats Western leaders, whether he loves you or hates you, but how he treats his own people. Why?

What are the similarities and differences between democracy and totalitarianism? Both democratic leaders and totalitarian leaders want to stay in power as long as possible.

But democratic leaders depend on their people, so they can sometimes be very bad people, but they have to deliver, or pretend to deliver, to demonstrate that they deliver some good.

That is the reason why democracies never go to war with one another. If there is a compromise which democracies can reach with one another, the majority of their people expect their leaders to go for it.

Dictators don't depend on their people; people depend on dictators. This means that if a dictator wants to stay in power, he or she has to keep the people under control. To keep the army of double-thinkers under control, requires enormous energy, brainwashing, propaganda, prohibition of free movement of books or ideas. There are many weapons which you have to use. But these are really powerful, non-conventional weapon that dictators have, and they always use them to mobilize their own people for the struggle against the enemy, internal or external. If you are strong enough, it can be a hot war; if you are not strong enough, it would be a cold war. But you constantly need an external enemy to control your own people.

If you look at the history of the Soviet Union, a virtual enemy was invented under Stalin and constantly served up to the Soviet people: "We are fighting to make our economy overcome the West, and there are enemies who are trying to destroy our economy, our minds, our factories. Here is one who confesses that he is an American spy, and here is another who was a peasant who came to destroy our crops." This was the constant struggle against the enemy.

Every dictator needs an enemy. That is why it is so difficult to come to stability through dictators.

Sometimes people say, "What about Israel with Egypt? Israel signed a peace with Egypt and it worked for more than twenty years." It's true. Egypt got a lot of profit from this peace treaty. But it cost one very important thing: it cost them Israel as an enemy.

They say that the strongest state anti-Semitism in the world is in Egypt. Anti-Semitic propaganda, the most powerful education for hatred of Jews—the largest number of copies of articles about Zionism published in any country in the world is in Egypt, because Egypt needs to punish those Jews in Israel as compensation for their losing Israel as a political enemy.

Or another example, maybe less popular in America, is what happened with Saudi Arabia. I remember how after 1991, after the Gulf War, I said to many leaders and opinion makers here in the United States: "How can it be that just when America saves Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that America doesn't do anything to make a linkage?"

I remember saying, "We cannot impose democracy on Saudi Arabia, but we can insist that in exchange for all those things which America is giving, including saving Saudi Arabia, the Saudis should have more liberal immigration laws or that delegations which were banned from Saudi Arabia should be permitted."

And you know what the answer was, from top to bottom, with many meetings with many liberal editorial boards and many people in Washington? "Don't you understand that Saudi Arabia controls oil? That's why Saudi Arabia is not about democracy. It's about the stability of the free world. It's about the stability of the United States." And you know what has happened with the stability.

In order for this family of dictators in Saudi Arabia to survive they need to support terrorism all the time. Whether you look at Chechnya or at conflicts in Europe and Asia, how many spiritual leaders were educated in Saudi Arabia?

The price of stability of the regime in Saudi Arabia is terror all over the world and it doesn't gives us stability. In order for this regime to be stable, because it governs through fear, it needs an enemy, and this enemy is the free world.

That is why we are saying that a dictator cannot be a reliable partner. He helps you today as a friend, but he will meet you tomorrow as an enemy. And if today he does become your friend, it is because he has some other enemy. You think, "Okay, that's good that he has an enemy somewhere else."

The third group of questions: Do we have a role to play? Are we going to declare war on all the dictators in the world and send troops all over? Americans know that that is not the best possible solution.

We need to go back to the mechanics of tyranny and understand one more important point. Tyrannies look awful, aggressive, dangerous, threatening, but on the inside they are extremely weak and vulnerable, because all of their power has to be used to control the minds of their own people, to fight double-think and dissent, and to keep double-thinkers—the overwhelming majority of the population—under control.

That is why we dissidents in the Soviet Union always knew that the Soviet Union was doomed to fall apart. You can find many opinions of Sovietologists—not ten years, but ten months—before the Soviet Union fell apart who were saying that it would never happen.

But as a Russian dissident wrote, it's like a soldier keeping a prisoner under the gun, and having to do it twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year. At some point, he's tired, the gun will slip down, and the prisoner will escape.

It was obvious for us that this society which looks so awful, which was awful, which controlled one-third of the world, was absolutely rotten on the inside, was absolutely weak.

And that's why we were so passionately against the policy of d?tente. A minor dictator can have an enemy on one side and the social enemy on the other side, whether we are talking about Cuba or Saudi Arabia. They can have an enemy in one part of the world and a friend in the other. But the bigger, the more important the dictatorship is, the more difficult it will be.

The Soviet Union had no choice. It needed America as its enemy and as a source of energy. The idea at the time in the Soviet Union was to be able to continue this very aggressive ideological competition, and fight with the West, because they needed it for their own stability. And at the same time they needed the cooperation of the West, and somehow they almost brought this cooperation about through d?tente.

That is what gives the free world these weapons of mass construction, or freedom. We dissidents had very big problems at the beginning of the Helsinki Agreement. We were afraid that it was the new Yalta. Our fear was that the Soviet Union then officially had all of the legal control over Eastern Europe, and would get all the trade benefits, technology, and legitimacy.

In fact, when we created the Helsinki Groupin Moscow—and I was one of the founding members—we knew that we would be arrested, that the Soviet Union would be furious, that we would all go to prison. But we were absolutely determined not to permit the Soviet Union to continue this policy of having the free world both as their enemy and their source of support.

And what has happened? The Helsinki Group made it impossible for the Soviet Union to continue using the West both as an enemy and a friend.

At the moment they had to choose which direction to go in, the weapons in their hands started slipping, and the moment the dictatorship became weaker, the number of dissidents increased exponentially, and the prisoner escaped, exactly as Sakharov had predicted almost twenty years before.

After this great success in winning the Cold War, the free world—not only Israel, but also America and Europe—went back to the old theory that for stability we need dictators. And the Oslo Processwas based on the idea that we are taking a dictator and bringing him to Israel. We are making him strong.

You remember the quotation from our Prime Minister, that without human rights organizations, and without bleeding-heart liberals, Yasser Arafatwill fight Hamas terrorists much more successfully than we. That was the idea. Let's not put restrictions on him. Let's let him fight against terrorists in his own way.

That is when I wrote my first article against Oslo. I knew then that it was very unpopular. At the end of 1993, I wrote that we will be doing everything to strengthen Arafat's dictatorship, and because he is a dictator he will have to do everything to strengthen hatred. He doesn't have any other enemy. He doesn't have a big choice of external enemies. His only enemy is Israel and Jews, and that is how he will use every dollar, rifle, and square meter to strengthen hatred towards Jews and Israel. And that is exactly what happened.

Let's remember where this money came from. In addition to terror and racketeering, there were Paris Agreements signed between the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 1995, and supported and blessed by all the free world. Under these agreements, Israel had to give the Palestinian Authority money, which belonged to Palestinians, but under these agreements 20 percent of these funds had to go into the private account of Yasser Arafat in Tel Aviv and then was transferred to Paris.

I have raised this issue for years: let's stop transferring public money to the private account of Arafat. If we transfer even $100 in public money to any of our politicians, we will go to prison. Yet here we are transferring tens of millions every month.

There was some embarrassment over that. They said, "Don't raise it so publicly. Don't you understand you can't do anything? We signed the agreements. The world respects these agreements."

Why did Europe support such an agreement? The idea was that if he needs some pocket money for his army to defeat terrorism, let him. It is a small price to win the war on terror. That example shows how we ourselves betrayed those principles which were so brilliantly proved in the Cold War.

That there is now an opportunity for changing leadership is important, because after all, everybody now agrees that Yasser Arafat was an obstacle for peace. But now the important thing is that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

We are watching not only who will be the leader but what kind of reforms this leadership will undertake—if this leadership is ready to be our partner in the struggle against terror, if this leadership is willing to take people out of the refugee camps, if this leadership is interested in good education, and in creating real job opportunities. As a former Minister of Industry and Trade, I can say that there are numerous mutual joint venture projects, but that means that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority would have less control over their own people, and they didn't want that.

We should have a new Marshall Plan. All the developed world should help. But we should base our support on what they are doing and not who they are, and not whether they like us, but what is their own attitude towards their own people.

The victory over the Soviet Union came—without one shot—when there was real union, agreement, between security folks on the one hand and human rights activists on the other. When they came together, they understood that the struggle against a fear society is much more important than their differences.

That is what must happen today. That is the way for President Bush to unite his own country. It was divided during the elections. But I am sure that everybody—those who believe in liberal democracy and those who believe in the need of the struggle for security—should be interested in expanding free societies, and banishing fear societies from this world. If you know how to use this non-conventional weapon of mass construction you can win.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Could you say something about this Administration's attempt to establish a democratic state in the Middle East? Is this a question of a commendable vision or trading a political tyranny for a religious tyranny?

NATHAN SHARANSKY: When some people say that we are only trading political tyranny for another type of tyranny, they mean that democracy means elections.

What we say in this book is that an election is not the beginning of the democratic process; an election is the end of the democratic process. If people live and vote in fear, it is not elections. There were elections all the time in the Soviet Union. There were elections all the time in Hussein's Iraq. If there had been elections in 1945 in Germany, the Nazis would have won again. And the same if there were elections in 1946 even in Japan. But the situation was very different some years after. So the important point is the process of good and civil society, with all these protections, and then elections.

One of the most important actions we have seen is the Alexandria Protocol, when representatives of Arab countries came to the agreement that now their policy should be encouraging strengthening civil society in their own countries.

I often hear that there are no dissidents in Arab countries. How many dissidents at this moment are dying in Libya and in Syria in prison? We mentioned two or three dozen names which you can get from the Internet. In fact there are many more.

When I mentioned three names of people some months ago in Congress who had been arrested in the past two weeks, I said, "Did anybody in the Congress do anything about it?" Most of the people didn't know. At the moment of the most difficult confrontation two and a half years ago between Israel and the terrorists, when we sent our tanks to Ramallah, I received a call from a public phone. The caller was a successful Syrian businessman, who called me from a private phone because he was afraid, because Ramallah is a half-hour drive from Jerusalem and Ramallah was under siege.

He said, "You are one of the right-wing ministers in a right-wing government. For us that automatically means that you are our enemy here, and yet, reading your article I agree that our main problem is corrupt dictatorship." He was only one of the representatives of these middle-class Palestinian businessmen who are suffering from this.

When I met with him many times, he seemed exactly like a dissident from the former Soviet Union--with one big difference, because when we were dissidents, we knew that we could go to prison, but that all the free world would be behind us. When he was trying to get solidarity and financial and other support from the free world, the doors were closed to him. Why? Because they were saying, "Your activity is weakening Arafat, and at this moment Arafat is the only hope for peace."

I do believe that in Palestinian society there is a very strong desire to live not in a fear society, but in a free society. Much depends how we, the free world, treat dissent and how we link our relations in these countries with the question of human rights.

QUESTION: In the Algerian elections, the second round was canceled, with strong support from Western countries. You say that it was a mistake to give support to the actions taken by the Algerian regime at the time. I would like you to elaborate on that.

The second part of my question is more general. In many parts of the Western world, the thinking is that freedom needs to be curtailed and limited; certain civil liberties, certain human rights, need to be curtailed since we have to fight terror. How does that relate to the underlying philosophy of your book?

NATAN SHARANSKY: Maybe for a change, Ron Dermer, my co-author, will take this question.

RON DERMER: In answer to your first question about Algeria, the point that Natan makes in the book is that he believes that societies will choose freedom over fear.

But let's say for argument's sake that in a free election, where people can go into a town square and say what they want without fear of arrest and imprisonment and physical harm, they choose leaders that would be unpalatable to everybody in this room. That happened in 1933 in a democratic election, where the Nazis came to power through a democracy.

The question to ask ourselves is: was the danger from Nazi Germany the fact that the Nazis came to power; or was the danger that when the Nazis came to power and crushed democracy and the right of dissent within Germany that the free world did nothing about it?

If you have that circumstance where "extremists" come to power, the question is how the world responds to it. If the free world unites and says, "You must protect the right of dissent in those societies or we won't deal with you, we won't give you economic aid, we won't give you any sort of benefit, and we'll use the stick," then the situation could be very different.

But as Natan has powerfully made the case now, under a free society where people don't live in fear, the chances of that happening are very remote; and if it does, then the free world must stand together and take a stand against crushing the right to dissent.

Unlike Natan, I grew up in a free society in the United States, and had no knowledge of a fear society. It was very hard for me, despite reading a lot about fear societies, to understand the mechanics of tyranny within these societies and how they are sustained. I had to sit at Natan's feet for many years to get an understanding of these types of societies.

But one thing that should be clear is that there is a fundamental moral difference of good versus evil between fear societies and free societies. Within free societies, there can be many differences—to curtail liberties a little bit more or a little bit less for the sake of security. These differences are not just quantitative, but there are qualitative differences between these questions and that of the separating line between freedom and fear.

Sometimes when we hear concerns over something like the Patriot Act, we must understand that that's not the line between good and evil. These are questions within the realm of this gray world of where do you draw the line.

But what we're talking about here is black and white, and that is that every society should give people the right to dissent, and it's the free world's and the UN's and other organizations' work to protect and preserve the rights that will advance the cause of freedom, and then every society on earth will have a chance to debate its own Patriot Act.

NATAN SHARANSKY: I would add that this problem of how to fight terror in free society is a very real problem, which is constantly faced and debated. For example, in the state of Iraq in the time of war, America now understands what we have known for many years.

I was involved in many debates inside the government, some of them very secret debates, about what democracy can afford and what it cannot afford. The difference between a free society and a fear society is that in the latter there is no debate. They do what is good for the dictators and that's all.

QUESTION: You have spoken about freedom, but also truth. I never thought I would live to see the day that people in America are living in a state of fear, worried about the way this country is going.

NATAN SHARANSKY: I don't think that I, as a member of the Israeli government—although I am in private business now—should interfere in the domestic affairs of America. We don't want America to interfere in our affairs. American citizens should have all the tools to fight all injustices, even at the highest level. Democratic society is not always just. There are many unjust things which happen in democratic society, but there are tools to fight injustice.

That is a difference with the fear society, which is always unjust. I don't have to explain to Americans how to fight for the rights of your society. As someone who was in the Soviet Union, I can tell you that I don't think there is any other country in the world which empowers its citizens so well to fight against injustice.

JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much for being with us today.

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