Boris Altshuler: Lessons of Sakharov. On the 90th Anniversary of His Birth

posted 17 May 2011, 14:36 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 17 May 2011, 14:37 ]
Boris Altshuler, 16/05/11


On 21 May it will be 90 years since the birth of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (21.05.1921 - 14.12.1989), one of the most outstanding figures of the twentieth century: a theoretical physicist and designer, who became an academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR at the age of 32, the ‘father’ of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, and laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize (1975).
But Russia has never learned her lessons,
Nor has she ever healed her wounds,
And they become inflamed, and bleed,
And resentment gnaws, and guilt like a bone sticks in the throat.
The new century has for Russia not been an epoch, nor even anything new.
She swears and becomes wild with rage, and coughs blood.
To celebrate the Andrei Sakharov anniversary in Moscow a series of events has been organized to discuss the legacy of Sakharov’s scientific work and his civic activism.
Sakharov’s scientific legacy continues to lead an interesting life. It is enough to do an Internet search for ‘Sakharov oscillations’ to be convinced of this. Here the issue concerns the so-called acoustic fluctuations of background radiation discovered experimentally in 2001. According to Sakharov’s calculations of 1965, these are the imprint of quantum fluctuations of the vacuum in the first moments of the existence of the Universe.
Things are worse with Sakharov’s civic legacy. His main ‘lesson’ is that any ideologies and ‘great ideas’, for which living people are sacrificed, are dangerous. But it was just such a sacrifice that happened in the 1990s, the years of ‘market’ reforms. And today ‘market schizophrenia’, the commercialization of spheres of life of vital importance for people, is killing the country. This is why in 1998 we had 22 million children of school age, and now there are 12,8 million. "Coughing blood " (see the epigraph), Russian science is gradually dying, and much else besides. There are well-known methods to resolve in essence all the problems that face the country today, but it is also well-known that the state machine is not Baron Munchhausen who pulled himself by the hair out of the quagmire. Throughout the world, problems are resolved only thanks to the ‘external’ influence of civil society.
A.D.Sakharov in his work gave an example of the powerful influence that civil society can have on the authorities. Today, this ‘lesson’ of Sakharov begins spontaneously to become part of our life. There are two reasons for this: (1) the post-Soviet "uncowed" generation, not burdened by the Soviet complex of passively waiting for decisions to be made by higher-up comrades, have entered into conscious adult life, and (2) the development of social networks on the Internet, what is called Internet-democracy.
This is what Sakharov said about young people in an interview in the spring of 1989: "I believe that moral strengths have always been preserved among the people. I especially believe that young people, who in each generation begin to live as it were afresh, are able to take a high moral position. We are talking not so much about rebirth, as about the fact that there must be a development of the moral strength that is present in each generation, and capable of growing stronger again and again."
And all our hope lies in this.
Boris Altshuler
Senior Researcher, Department of Theoretical Physics, Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences,
Director, Right of the Child,
Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group,
Member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation
The following events will be held to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Andrei Sakharov’s birth (Moscow):
  • 20-21 May, 9.00. Conference on "Andrei Sakharov. Alarm and Hope 2011" (organisers: Sakharov Museum and Public Centre; venue: the hotel Holiday Inn Lesnaya, Moscow Lesnaya St., 15).
  • 22 May, 14.00 - 17.00. "Sakharov May Rally" (in the park next to the Sakharov Museum and Public Centre, Zemlyanoi Val, 56).
  • 23 May, 18.00 - 20.30. Public Lectures: On the Fate of the Universe and Matter, On the Scientific and Civic Legacies of Sakharov (organizers.: Dynasty Foundation, Sakharov Museum; venue: L.N.Lebedev Physics Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, Leninsky Prospect, 53).
  • 25 May, 11.00 - 17.00. Scientific Session of the Department of Physical Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences, Leninsky Prospect, 53). Entrance is free of charge; to enter the Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences on 23, 25 May it is necessary to present some ID.)
Rights in Russia,
17 May 2011, 14:37