Remembering Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov

21 May 2013

Source: (info), 21/05/12

· Human rights defenders  · Human rights education  · Moscow city & Moscow region

The twenty-first of May 2013 marks 92 years since the birth of the outstanding human rights defender and physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.

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Andrei Sakharov was born in Moscow on 21 May 1921. His father, Dmitry Sakharov, was a physics teacher and author of a well-known mathematics textbook and many popular science books. His grandfather, Ivan Nikolaevich Sakharov, was the son of a priest from Arzamas and a barrister at the Moscow Regional Court, where he represented defendants in many criminal and political trials. He was a member of the Kadet party in the Second State Duma and co-editor of a collection of articles, Against the Death Penalty. His grandmother, Maria Petrovna Sakharova (maiden name Domukhovskaya), was born into a gentry family on her family estate in Smolensk province... 

Andrei Sakharov’s mother, Ekaterina Alekseevna Sakharova (maiden name Sofiano) was the daughter of a hereditary military officer, Aleksei Semenovich Sofiano, who retired in 1917 with the rank of lieutenant-general, and her great-grandfather was born on the Greek island of Zeya, acquired Russian citizenship and was ennobled during the reign of Catherine the Great.

Andrei Sakharov’s maternal grandmother, Zinaida Evgrafovna Sofiano (maiden name Mukhanova), came from an old noble family Mukhanova, whose name already appears in genealogical documents of the seventeenth century. Andrei Sakharov’s godfather was the well-known musician Aleksandr Borisovich Goldenveiser (for more information about Andrei Sakharov’s forebears, see Elena Bonner, Notes Towards a Genealogy of Andrei Sakharov [Vol’nye zametki k rodoslovnoi Andreya Sakharova], Moscow, Human Rights, 1996.)

Andrei Dmitrievich’s childhood and early youth were spent in Moscow. The family lived in an apartment, which his grandfather had once rented and which became a communal apartment after the revolution. He was initially educated at home, being taught physics and mathematics by his father. He attended high school from the seventh class, and after leaving high school in 1938, he entered the physics department of Moscow University. In the summer of 1941 on grounds of health Andrei Sakharov was not accepted by the military academy that many of his fellow students had entered. Having graduated with distinction in 1942 in evacuation in Ashkhabad, he was sent to work in the People's Commissariat of Armaments. Andrei Sakharov worked at a munitions factory in Ulyanovsk as a development engineer, and made a number of innovations in the field of quality control. In 1943, he married Claudia Alekseevna Vikhirevoi (1919-1969); in 1972 he married Elena Georgievna Bonner (born 1923).

In late 1944 Andrei Sakharov enrolled as a correspondence graduate student in the Lebedev Physics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences (FIAN), and early in 1945 transferred to the graduate school. His supervisor there was Igor Evgenevich Tamm, who later became an Academician and a Nobel Laureate. Shortly after defending his doctoral dissertation in 1948, Andrei Sakharov was enrolled in a research group working on the development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov is often called the "father of the hydrogen bomb," but he believed that this description did not accurately reflect the complex nature of collective authorship. In 1950 Andrei Sakharov and Igor Tamm began joint work on controlled thermonuclear reactions (the idea of magnetic confinement of plasmas and the underlying calculations of the conditions for controlled thermonuclear fusion). These studies were reported in 1956 by Ivan Kurchatov at a conference at Harwell (UK) and are considered groundbreaking. In 1952, Sakharov put forward the idea of magnetic cumulation for super-strong magnetic fields, and in 1961 the idea of laser pulse compression to produce a controlled thermonuclear reaction. Sakharov was the author of a number of key works in cosmology (Baryon Asymmetry of the Universe, Multivalent models of the Universe, Cosmological Models of the Universe with a Reverse Arrow of Time), field theory and elementary particle physics. In 1953 Sakharov was elected a member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Andrei Sakharov believed he first entered public life in the years 1951-62 when he spoke out against atmospheric nuclear testing. Sakharov was one of the initiators in 1963 of the Moscow treaty banning nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in space and in the oceans. In 1964, Sakharov spoke out against Lysenko and his school. In 1966 he was signatory to a collective letter against the revival of the cult of Stalin. In 1968 he wrote a major article entitled Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, in which he argued for the necessity of convergence between the socialist and capitalist systems as the basis for progress and the preservation of world peace. The total print run of the article in the West reached 20 million copies. After its publication Sakharov was removed from his secret work in the closed city of Arzamas-16, where he had spent 18 years. In 1969 he returned to scientific work at Lebedev Physics Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. At the same time, Sakharov gave his savings of 139 thousand roubles to the Red Cross and for the construction of a cancer medical centre in Moscow.

In November 1970, Sakharov was one of the founders of the Moscow Human Rights Committee. In subsequent years he spoke out in defence of prisoners of conscience and basic human rights - the right to receive and distribute information, freedom of conscience, the right to leave and return to one’s country and the right to choose one’s place of residence within the country. In the same period he frequently spoke out on the issue of disarmament as the only independent professional expert in this field in the socialist world. In the summer of 1975 Andrei Sakharov published My Country and the World. In October 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: “Uncompromisingly and with unflagging strength Sakharov has fought against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity, and he has fought no less courageously for the idea of government based on the rule of law. In a convincing manner Sakharov has emphasised that Man's inviolable rights provide the only safe foundation for genuine and enduring international cooperation” (citation of the Nobel Committee of the Storting, Norway, 10 October, 1975).

In his Nobel Lecture, read in Oslo on his behalf by Elena Bonner on 10 December of that year, Sakharov stated: "Peace, progress, human rights - these three goals are inextricably linked, it is impossible to reach any one of them, while neglecting the others."

On 22 January, 1980, Sakharov was banished without trial to Gorky (Nizhnii Novgorod). At the same time, by a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, he was stripped of three Hero of Socialist Labour awards of 1953, 1956, and 1962, and by a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR he was stripped of State (1953) and Lenin (1956) Prizes. Sakharov’s exile was apparently linked to his outspoken condemnation of the December 1979 invasion by Soviet forces of Afghanistan.

In Gorky, despite the most severe isolation, Sakharov continued to speak out. His article “The Danger of Thermonuclear War”, his letter to Leonid Brezhnev on Afghanistan and an appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev to release all prisoners of conscience drew much interest in the West. In Gorky on four occasions Andrei Sakharov declared hunger strikes to protest against KGB pressure on his family. The KGB twice stole manuscripts of his memoirs and academic and personal diaries. During his Gorky years, Sakharov published four research papers. He was allowed to return to Moscow from Gorky in December 1986.

In February 1987 Sakharov spoke at an international forum, For a Nuclear-Free World, For the Survival of Humankind, about the problem of disarmament and proposed the principle of separating the issue of the reduction in the number of euro-missiles from that of the Strategic Defence Initiative. Two weeks later, this approach was adopted by Gorbachev. At this forum, Andrei Sakharov also spoke in favour of a reduction in size of the Soviet army and about the problems of the safety of nuclear energy.

In 1988 Andrei Sakharov was elected honorary chair of the Memorial Human Rights Society and put much energy into securing its recognition by the authorities. In March 1989 he was elected a People’s Deputy of the USSR. As a member of the Constitutional Commission Sakharov prepared and, on the 27 November 1989, submitted a draft of a new constitution. At the basis of Sakharov’s idea of a new constitution lay the protection of the rights of the individual and the rights of all peoples to equality of statehood.

Andrei Sakharov was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USA, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and an honorary doctor of many universities in Europe, America and Asia.

Andrei Sakharov died on 14 December 1989 and was buried in the Vostryakovsky cemetery in Moscow.

During his life, only articles and interviews on social issues written in the years 1987-89 were published. The years 1990 -1991 saw the first publication of Sakharov’s memoirs and essays (in 1991 Andrei Sakharov turned 70). In these years his Memoirs were published (Znamya, 1990, Nos 10-12; 1991, № № 1-5) and also Gorky, Moscow, Later Everywhere (Znamya, 1991, Nos 9 -10), Postscript, a book by Elena Bonner about Sakharov’s Gorky exile (Interbuk, Moscow, 1990), and two collections of articles and speeches: Peace, Progress, Human Rights (Sovetskii Pisatel, Moscow, 1990) and Anxiety and Hope (Inter-Verso, Moscow, 1990); and a collection of interviews (Zvezda, 1991, Nos 1, 5, 10). Other publications included The Constitutional Ideas of Andrei Sakharov (Novella, Moscow, 1990), Andrei Dmitrievich. Memories of Sakharov (Moscow: Terra, 1990), Andrei Sakharov. For and Against (Pik, Moscow, 1991), A.D. Sakharov in the Eyes of Colleagues and Friends. Studies towards a Scientific Portrait. (Freethinking, Mir, Moscow, 1991), A Sakharov Collection (Kniga, Moscow, 1991), And One Soldier in the Field (Luis, Yerevan, 1991). Also published was a brochure entitled Man and Legend. The Image of A. D. Sakharov in Public Opinion. All-Union Survey VTsIOM. March 1991 (Date Information Agency, Moscow, 1991). An eight-volume Collected Works came out in 2006 (Vremya, Moscow, 2006). This has two volumes of journalistic writing, three volumes of Memoirs and Gorky, Moscow, Later Everywhere; and three volumes of a first publication of Sakharov’s Diaries. Sakharov’s Memoirs and Gorky, Moscow, Later Everywhere have been translated into English, German, French, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Japanese, Norwegian, Swedish and Korean.