Andrei Sakharov


Andrei Sakharov : biography

May 21, 1921 – December 14, 1989

The major turn in Sakharov’s political evolution came in 1967, when anti-ballistic missile defense became a key issue in US–Soviet relations. In a secret detailed letter to the Soviet leadership of July 21, 1967, Sakharov explains the need to "take the Americans at their word" and accept their proposal "for a bilateral rejection by the USA and the Soviet Union of the development of antiballistic missile defense", because otherwise an arms race in this new technology would increase the likelihood of nuclear war. He also asked permission to publish his manuscript (which accompanied the letter) in a newspaper to explain the dangers posed by this kind of defense. The government ignored his letter and refused to let him initiate a public discussion of ABMs in the Soviet press.Gennady Gorelik. The Metamorphosis of Andrei Sakharov. Scientific American, 1999, March.Web exhibit "Andrei SAKHAROV: Soviet Physics, Nuclear Weapons, and Human Rights" at American Institute of Physics

In May 1968 he completed an essay, "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom", where the anti-ballistic missile defense is described as a major threat of world nuclear war. After this essay was circulated in samizdat and then published outside the Soviet Union (initially on July 6, 1968, in the Dutch newspaper Het Parool through intermediary of the Dutch academic and writer Karel van het Reve, followed by The New York Times, Sakharov was banned from all military-related research and returned to FIAN to study fundamental theoretical physics. In 1970 he, along with Valery Chalidze and Andrei Tverdokhlebov, was one of the founders of the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR and came under increasing pressure from the government. He married a fellow human rights activist, Yelena Bonner, in 1972.

In 1973 and 1974, the Soviet media campaign targeted both Andrei Sakharov and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. While Sakharov disagreed with Solzhenitsyn’s Slavophile vision of Russian revival, he deeply respected him for his courage. Only a few individuals in the Soviet Union dared to defend ‘traitors’ like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, and those who had dared were inevitably punished.

Sakharov later described that "it took years" for him "to understand how much substitution, deceit, and lack of correspondence with reality there was" in the Soviet ideals. "At first I thought, despite everything that I saw with my own eyes, that the Soviet state was a breakthrough into the future, a kind of prototype for all countries". Then he came, in his words, to "the theory of symmetry: all governments and regimes to a first approximation are bad, all peoples are oppressed, and all are threatened by common dangers." After that he realized that there is not much "symmetry between a cancer cell and a normal one. Yet our state is similar to a cancer cell – with its messianism and expansionism, its totalitarian suppression of dissent, the authoritarian structure of power, with a total absence of public control in the most important decisions in domestic and foreign policy, a closed society that does not inform its citizens of anything substantial, closed to the outside world, without freedom of travel or the exchange of information." Sakharov’s ideas on social development led him to put forward the principle of human rights as a new basis of all politics. In his works he declared that "the principle ‘what is not prohibited is allowed’ should be understood literally", defying the unwritten ideological rules imposed by the Communist ruling elite on the society in spite of the seemingly democratic USSR Constitution.

In 1973, Andrei Sakharov was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and in 1974 was awarded the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, although he was not allowed to leave the Soviet Union to collect it. His wife read his speech at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway.Y.B. Sakharov: , Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1975.Y.B. Sakharov: , Sakharov’s Nobel Lecture, Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, Norway, December 11, 1975. The Norwegian Nobel Committee called him "a spokesman for the conscience of mankind". In the words of the Nobel Committee’s citation: "In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasised that Man’s inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation."