Aleksandr Daniel: Andrei Sakharov and the Onset of a New Middle Ages

posted 30 May 2011, 14:24 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 31 May 2011, 14:30 ]
Source: (info), 16/05/11

· Human Rights Defenders  · Human Rights Education  · Moscow City and Moscow Region

Aleksandr Daniel: What is the image of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov that has entered into the public consciousness?

A great physicist, who was able to explain one of the main mysteries of the universe - the phenomenon of baryon asymmetry – and author of several daring cosmological hypotheses that remain relevant to this day? Not likely. This sort of public image would require at least some sort of understanding of modern physics, which is out of fashion these days.

An outstanding engineer who built the Soviet hydrogen bomb? That’s closer to the truth. On television, where most people get their information from nowadays, Andrei Sakharov is most often referred to as the “father of the thermonuclear bomb”. (Now the internet is TV’s greatest competitor as a source of news. By the way, how many internet users know that Sakharov was also a great futurologist who predicted the emergence of the internet?)

A constant fighter against the threat of war; a person, whose proposals became the foundation for the 1936 Moscow Treaty, which banned atomic testing (formally the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water)? It seems that there are no published sources, except for Sakharov’s own memoirs, that describe his role in preparing the Moscow Treaty. But have many people read these memoirs?

An outstanding critic of the Soviet system, the most famous dissident of the 1970s, who constantly and persistently agitated for the release of political prisoners in the USSR and the rest of the world? A political activist, organizer and one of the leaders of the first parliamentary opposition since 1918 in the history of the USSR? I think all the same that the general public has some sort of vague idea about all this. Even most school textbooks from the 1990s mentioned Andrei Sakharov's social activism, however briefly. And those who are forty or over saw with their own eyes Sakharov at the podium of the Congress of People's Deputies.

There is a Sakharov that hardly anyone remembers – the creator of a new social philosophy, a thinker who tried to formulate answers to the global challenges of the time and to point humanity towards possible ways out of dead-ends. People often forget about Sakharov the essayist, the author of Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom, The World in Half a Century, Alarm and Hope. Neither at home nor abroad has anyone read or heard Sakharov's Nobel prize speech, Peace, Progress and Human Rights. Nor has the theme of Sakharov's 20-year-long preaching, whose meaning could be encapsulated in the one sentence “In order to survive, mankind must overcome its divisions”, become the subject of wide international discussion.

But none of this is surprising. In today’s world, the paladins of Reason are not in vogue. The problem is not that Russia is seeing the revival of Soviet social stereotypes, or that the country operates under the slogan “Back to the USSR!”, or that a large segment of the population feels nostalgia not for Sakharov, but for Stalin. This is also a myth: Russia is not rushing towards socialism, but towards the victorious glamour, which is the last stage of communism. The images of the past must also correspond to the general, glamorous ideal. And neither Putin, nor Stalin have anything to do with this. The country yearns not for Stalin; it longs for “Stalin. Live”.

This is not a question of one or the other interpretation of Russian history. This is a rejection of historical experience as such – for the sake of life outside historical parameters, in the realm of mythologized consciousness that is irrational and mystical in its essence. I am afraid that this is not simply a Russian tendency, but also a global one.

The memory of Sakharov has not become a part of the national mythology – this is what those who claim that Andrei Sakharov has been “forgotten” mean to say. But this memory could not possibly have become a part of any myth because Sakharov was probably the last great rationalist of the 20th century, and, it is very possible, that his social philosophy is destined to be humanity’s last line of defence against the onset of a new middle ages.

So there is no reason to worry ahead of time.

Source: The New Times
Rights in Russia,
30 May 2011, 14:24