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'We Have A Dream' -- Visions Of The Future Inspired By Martin Luther King Jr.

Radio Liberty editor Francis Ronalds interviews Martin Luther King Jr. about the ongoing fight for equal rights in America in 1966.
Radio Liberty editor Francis Ronalds interviews Martin Luther King Jr. about the ongoing fight for equal rights in America in 1966.
Fifty years ago, on August 28, 1963, some 250,000 people converged on Washington in a march calling for jobs, social justice, and equal rights.

At the capital's Lincoln Memorial, they listened to civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have A Dream" speech -- imagining a day when people "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

One hundred years on from President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which freed black slaves, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom marked a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement in the United States. King's 15-minute speech has come to be seen as one of the most powerful, inspiring calls for justice in history.

To mark the 50th anniversary, RFE/RL asked notable activists and visionaries from our broadcast countries to tell us what their dreams are, for their countries and for the world. As King himself said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Shirin Ebadi, Iran

Shirin Ebadi, 66, is an Iranian lawyer and rights activist. In 2003 she became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She has been a prominent defense attorney, including representing numerous journalists who were arrested in connection with their professional work. She is a leading advocate for the rights of Iranian women and has spearheaded reforms in Iranian family law, including introducing protections for women and children. She has lived in exile since the disputed 2009 reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

"I have a dream. My dream is for the human heart to be such a way that every individual could feel the pain and sorrow of the other as if it were her own pain and sorrow. Instead of globalizing trade and economics, globalize humanity!

"I have a dream that instead of separating humanity, borders could connect human beings to one another. I have a dream that instead of schism and animosity, religions could summon people to empathy and consensus.

"I know that in today's trembling world this dream may appear far from us. But let's not forget that many of humanity's achievements started with dreams. For instance, 200 years ago, India's independence and the abolition of slavery were just dreams. But today those dreams have been realized. It is our task now to think in terms of dreams and to act in terms of reality. Then it won't be too long before my dream, too, will come true."

Dmitry Makarov, Russia

Dmitry Makarov, 31, is a leader of the Youth Human Rights Movement and a member of Legal Team, which provides legal assistance to Russian activists. His activity led to the introduction of crucial changes to Russian legislation on police relations with citizens. He also worked to establish the practice of independent public monitors at government hearings and court sessions.

"I would like to live in a country where the interests of the individual, the values of freedom, justice, and dignity, are more important than territory or any national or state interests. The conception of human rights that I uphold is not about happiness but about minimal standards of life that will enable people to feel dignity and freedom. I dream that this minimum will be observed in my country."

Elvira Fatykhova, Russia's Republic of Tatarstan

Elvira Fatykhova is a journalist and investigative reporter for the independent newspaper "Beznen gezit" in Kazan.

"I'm not a human rights activist. I'm just a journalist helping people fight for their rights. But I have a dream. I have a dream of living in a state free of corruption and nepotism. While those who steal small amounts serve long prison terms, those guilty of embezzling huge amounts get conditional sentences. This is not right.

"But my dream is not about trials only. I have a dream of living in a state where young people are free to choose their school or university according to their talents, rather than their contacts. I dream that those who graduate from these schools will have the opportunity to contribute to the prosperity of the state.

"I have a dream of living in a state where old people enjoy their retirement and have enough money to live decently, a state where they can travel and eat as they like.

"I have a dream of living in a state where alcohol abuse is not an issue, where women can enjoy their motherhood without worrying about their jobless husbands drowning in vodka.

"I have a dream of living in an independent, prosperous Tatar state, a state of law, where Tatars and all other nationalities enjoy a high level of education and protected rights. I want everyone to be proud of the state they live in."

Anastasia Danilova, Moldova

Anastasia Danilova, 30, is the executive director of Genderdoc-M, the only nongovernmental organization that advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. A native of Russia, Danilova moved to Moldova in 2004 to be with her girlfriend. At first she was frequently subjected to discrimination and mistreatment from the authorities, a situation made worse because she did not know her rights.

She learned about Genderdoc-M when her partner sought legal help to get a divorce. She began volunteering at the organization and soon became a staff member. She lobbied for the country's recently adopted antidiscrimination law despite strong, sometimes violent, opposition from conservatives and the Orthodox Church.

"The dream of many human rights defenders can probably be reduced to a single very simple -- perhaps banal, but nevertheless great -- dream: equal rights for all people. As an LGBT activist in Moldova, this is also what I want for my country. I would like to see people respecting one another no matter how different they are. I would like to see unconditional respect by the state for the rights and liberties of all citizens. I would like to see self-respect in the eyes of those who now are being constantly told that they are second-class citizens.

"I hope the day will come when religious people in Moldova speak of love, not hate; when politicians speak -- not only in Europe, but also on television at home -- of their commitment to the principle of equality. I hope that a march for equality will be held in the near future in the center of the Moldovan capital, and that it will be attended by gays and lesbians; by Roma and Gagauz; by Orthodox and Muslims; by people with special needs; by all those who do not separate their neighbors into right and wrong, normal and not normal; by those who believe that everyone is a valuable and important member of a diverse -- and, therefore, strong -- society.

"I dream of a day when one's sexual orientation will no longer seem important and will be perceived as just one more facet of the human personality, when we will no longer be deprived of our rights because of whom we love, when common sense will defeat blind hatred. I trust that this will happen, and I want to be part of these changes in Moldova."

Natasa Kandic, Serbia

Natasa Kandic, 67, is a Serbian rights activist and founder of the Humanitarian Law Center, which campaigns for human rights and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia. Her research formed a crucial part of the war crimes prosecutions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Although Kandic is controversial in Serbia, she has received numerous international rights awards. In 2005, she was named an honorary citizen of Sarajevo, capital of neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 2006 she was given the Order of Danica Hrvatska by the president of Croatia in recognition of her contribution to the "advancement of moral values."

"I always think about how to name all the victims in the Yugoslav war and how to break Balkan silence about the past and about the victims -- always memory has involved numbers and not names. It is my dream and I hope that one day all of us in the former Yugoslavia and the world will know the names of the victims of war crimes and of war."

Tolekan Ismailova, Kyrgyzstan

Tolekan Ismailova is a longtime Kyrgyz civil rights activist and head of the One World Kyrgyzstan (formerly, Citizens Against Corruption) nongovernmental organization. At various times she has been threatened, beaten, and detained for her activism. She worked in southern Kyrgyzstan during ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in 2010 and was forced to leave the country for several weeks after receiving threats.

"We have been trying to find a peaceful means for changing the system using the power of civic action -- as we have seen in the actions of Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, and others. We need to establish dialogues to achieve mutual understanding without weapons or violence.

"And the authorities must not think they are smarter than the citizenry -- we have overthrown authoritarian governments twice for abusing the principles of liberty, civil society, and justice. Now we have a parliamentary system and there are a lot more opportunities for civic activists to oversee and participate in the development of equal branches of power. I strongly believe that our future is bright because there are many young people in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. here in Kyrgyzstan.

"The important thing is that every citizen should realize that everyone is equal. No matter where we come from -- a small village in the mountains or a town near the country's borders. We all were born equal and have equal rights. Our mission now is to be true citizens of our country."

Yevgeny Zhovtis, Kazakhstan

Yevgeny Zhovtis, 58, began his activism in the Soviet period, campaigning for the rights of Kazakh miners who were working in often inhumane conditions. He was a leader of the Memorial civic organization in Kazakhstan that worked to promote human rights and democratic values in the U.S.S.R. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became a lawyer in order to continue his activism. He is now the director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law.

"Keeping in mind that I was born in the Soviet Union, my dream is to overcome the Soviet past. That the country, its people, its government, its system of relations between the government and the people, will be as it is in democratic countries. That it will be a democratic country where human rights, the rule of law, basic freedoms, human dignity, and freedom in general will be accepted by society and will be promoted by the government. That this will be a country where you could speak freely, breathe freely, and live freely. This is the country of my dream, and I hope that in the not-far future we will come to this goal."

Ramazan Bashardost, Afghanistan

Ramazan Bashardost, 48, is one of Afghanistan’s best-known human rights defenders. He is a member of parliament and ran for president in 2009. He hails from the ethnic Hazara minority group.

"My dream is achieving political, social, cultural, ethnic, and economic justice in Afghanistan. I am not talking about power-sharing. I'm not talking about how many ministries are being held by Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks, or Uzbeks. My dream is that every human being, every Afghan, every idea, and every faith should be recognized. Questions over ethnicity, faith, and language should never be asked. If an Afghan Hindu has merit and the right qualifications, he should be appointed to the highest positions in the country."

Nurberdi Nurmamed, Turkmenistan

Nurberdi Nurmamed, 70, has been an activist in Turkmenistan since the late-Soviet period. He created his Unity movement as a civic organization to pressure Turkmen authorities to declare independence as the Soviet Union collapsed. Later, Unity was transformed into a political party and promptly banned by the authoritarian government of former Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

Despite the ban, Unity was the only opposition organization ever established in Turkmenistan, and Nurmamed is the only opposition activist who remains in the country. He has been tried and detained several times over the years. He continues to express his opinions openly and is one of the few people in Turkmenistan who openly and regularly appears on RFE/RL broadcasts.

"There is no private land ownership in Turkmenistan. The people of Turkmenistan are deprived of the natural rights of owning their own place: land that was left to them by their ancestors, land that they have farmed, and even the land where they are buried -- none of this has been theirs since Turkmenistan's independence.

"The state routinely drives people from their homes on the pretext of new construction. Residents of villages in areas where natural-gas deposits are discovered are removed to distant, unfamiliar places. This practice began under the dictatorial regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov and lies at the root of the regime of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

"This situation creates misunderstandings between the state and people about the country, about sharing responsibilities. I dream of a day when the Turkmen people will be relieved of the reasons behind these misunderstandings and will own their own country."

Hanaa Edwar, Iraq

Hanaa Edwar, 67, is secretary-general of the Iraqi Al-Amal Association and a co-founder of the Iraqi Women's Network, an umbrella organization of 80 women's groups from across Iraq. She is also a co-founder of the Civil Initiative to Preserve the Constitution. In 2011 she was awarded the Sean MacBride Peace Prize for her contributions toward the advancement of democracy and human rights in Iraq.

"I dream for Iraq to be secure, for people to live in security, for people to live a normal life like other people around the world. I dream that people can have relations with others without fear or hesitation. I dream that people can fulfill their dreams for freedom, their dreams for development, for prosperity, for happiness, for joy -- which we have been missing in our country now for decades. This is our dream and this is our wish. And we are working forward to see security and stability in Iraq, as well as prosperity."

Tsovinar Nazarian, Armenia

Tsovinar Nazarian, 37, is a member of the Army in Reality nongovernmental organization in Armenia that campaigns against abuses in the military. She was awarded an International Woman of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department in 2012.

"I dream of an Armenia where human rights are respected, where the individual is a supreme value, where a person's cultural environment is preserved in the best possible way and where women and men are equal and no one suffers discrimination, where there is no culture of violence and such cases are condemned, where the culture of life rules supreme and where there are no combat or noncombat deaths of soldiers, but where soldiers return to their families, and where people do not suffer political persecution for their views, do not end up in jail or get roughed up by truncheon-wielding police officers."

Vyacheslav Akhunov, Uzbekistan

Vyacheslav Akhunov, 65, is one of Uzbekistan's best-known and respected artists. He graduated from the Moscow State Institute of Art in 1979 and developed an artistic style based on the rejection of totalitarianism and centered on the problems of personal moral choice. After speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was asked to leave the city of Ferghana and move to Tashkent. He has continued his experimental art since then and in the 1990s turned his attention to literature and film as well.

"My greatest dream is not the country with a great future as described by our president, Islam Karimov. I dream of a country where people have the opportunity to work and prosper, just like in the Netherlands or Denmark; where people are rewarded properly for their work. A country where people have the opportunity to get a worthy education, quality medical services, proper benefits, and social protection from the state. A country where the state does not cheat and rob the people, so the people would have the right to live in a good apartment, to be paid decent wages, to freely travel overseas, to send their children to good colleges and universities both in Uzbekistan and overseas. This is my big dream for Uzbekistan. I dream simply of dignified and worthy lives for the people of Uzbekistan."

Andriy Didenko, Ukraine

Andriy Didenko is a former businessman who spent eight years in prison in a case that he says was fabricated. He alleges that he was tortured while in custody. While in prison, Didenko began assisting inmates with their legal issues and helping them defend their rights. After his release in 2010, he began working for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, one of the leading and most vocal human rights organizations in Ukraine.

"My dream is to have fair trials in Ukraine. A court should judge rather than punish. It must not resolve questions by bribery. I dream of fair and independent courts, where judges feel confident enough to admit judicial mistakes. If a court is not able to fairly judge the mistakes made by another court, people begin to distrust the judiciary. You could imagine how people sentenced to life imprisonment feel if they did not commit the crimes for which they are convicted. This is outrageous injustice.

"We see that there aren't any acquittals in Ukraine. We see that Ukrainian courts are dependent. I dream that they would never make decisions based on bribes. This simply must be impossible. Both plaintiffs and defendants need to be sure they have everything they need to defend their interests. If a person has a claim and reliable evidence, a court has to make well-grounded judgment. It is a big problem that there are no fair trials in Ukraine. People do not believe that in their country there is any authority able to help them defend their interests. If a state does not have independent courts it has no rule of law, and it is not democratic or civilized."

Hikmet Hajizade, Azerbaijan

Hikmet Hajizade, 59, is a prominent political analyst and democracy advocate. He is a physicist by training and former Azerbaijani ambassador to Russia and deputy prime minister. He is vice president of the Baku-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (FAR Center).

"I have many dreams. But my main dream is to see us free of lies and thieves. Corruption, lies, and robbery are the most important problems our nation faces.

"These are the source of our misfortune. Our lack of democracy and freedoms and the dominance of violence and injustice are the results of corruption.

"Nations can change governments. But changing the people -- the society -- is never easy. There are examples of positive societal transformation, and I hope one day it will happen to us, that the time will come when we will listen to each other. That the time will come when we will not be afraid of telling the truth to each other. That the time will come when we will value each other. I have a dream that one day everyone will listen to everyone else's story."

Nasta Dashkevich, Belarus

Nasta Dashkevich, 23, is a youth activist in Belarus and deputy head of the Youth Front nongovernmental organization. She has been arrested many times for her opposition activities. In 2011, she was given an International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department. In December 2012, she married fellow activist Zmitser Dashkevich in a 10-minute ceremony at the Belrusian prison where Zmitser is serving a term for assault, a charge he says is politically motivated. He was released from prison on August 28.

"I have a dream: I want to live in a country where you have no fear. No fear for your family and relatives, no fear for your friends. You know where they are and what they are doing, and you are sure that everything will be fine.

"I want to live in a country where universal love reigns supreme. Where people are proud of the place they live and what they see there.

"I believe that Belarus will become such a country. People will bring up their kids in the Belarusian spirit. They will send them to Belarusian-language kindergartens, then to Belarusian-language schools, and then to universities without worries that their Belarusian-speaking child will be the only one in the whole class.

"I believe that I will see a country in which police officers and servicemen act like supermen: They save people -- they don't abuse them, and they don't falsify testimony. I believe that it will be a country where God's and men's laws are respected.

"I believe that Belarus will become such a country. I dream of seeing such a country soon. Or, perhaps, it will happen in five or 10 years. I think that my dreams at that time will be different because the country, too, will be different."

Compiled by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson
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