Sunday, 14 December 2014

Life is bitter without Sakharov

It is 25 years since the death of Andrei Sakharov - human rights activist, nuclear physicist and father of the Soviet H Bomb. Following his work on developing is work on the hydrogen bomb, he became increasingly concerned over the use of nuclear weapons.  His famous 1968 essay "Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom" was distributed underground "samizdat" in the USSR and smuggled out to the west.   This propelled him into the public sphere (in Russia and abroad) and set him on a course which would set him against the Soviet authorities.  Having become convinced that the goals of peace, progress and human rights were inextricably linked, he became an active campaigner and defender of human rights in the USSR.  

His international recognition and status as Hero of Socialist Labour, afforded him some protection from the full repressive force of the authorities , suffered by other "dissidents", nevertheless he was exiled in 1980 to the closed city of Gorky (off-limits to foreigners), now Nizhny Novgorod, following his vocal opposition to the 1979 invasion of Afganistan.

Gorbachev allowed him to return to Moscow in 1986, as a consequence of the policies of perestroika and glasnost, 

In March 1989, Sakharov was elected to the new parliament, the All-Union Congress of People's Deputies and co-led the democratic opposition, the Inter-Regional Deputies Group. He remained a thorn in the side of the authorities - at the December session of the twice-yearly congress, Gorbachev berated nuclear physicist and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov in a televised debate in which Sakharov was demanding a true multi-party system.  Andrei Sakharov died the next day of a heart attack aged 68.

Since Soviet times, Russia has made real progress in the development and protection of human rights. However, the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Russian state, curbs on freedom, closure of non-governmental organisations, harassment of the independent press, and attacks on protesters raise concerns over human rights and suggests that much work is still to be done in this area.  

Russia still needs a Sakharov.

A mourner at his funeral held a banner stating "life without Sakharov is bitter!" which is a play on the Russian saying  "life without sugar is bitter" (sakharov being the genitive plural for sakhar - sugar). Ironically, the word "bitter" in Russian is "gorky".

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