Discussion about Russia having more political prisoners than USSR misleading | Letters

Opinion

Regarding your post Russia now has more political prisoners than USSR did in 1976.

I greatly respect Paul Goble and his important work over the years.  I also respect the other individuals he mentions in his article about political prisoners in the USSR and Russia. Nonetheless, the discussion in the above-noted article about political prisoners in the USSR/Russia is misleading, since it significantly misrepresents what Sakharov originally said about political prisoners in the Soviet Union.

In his Nobel Peace Prize speech of 1975 Sakharov lists the names of over 100 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union.  However, he clearly states in this speech that these are only “some of the names known to me,” and that many more could be listed.  In the same speech, with reference to the Soviet Union, he talks about “hundreds and thousands of prisoners of conscience.”

An official version of Sakharov’s speech can be found here.

I fully agree that Russia’s current human rights record is atrocious and deserves to be thoroughly criticized.  And just as to this day we have no thoroughly reliable figures concerning the number of political prisoners, or prisoners of conscience, in the Soviet Union, we have only incomplete information of a similar nature about present-day Russia.

This does not excuse, however, simplistic distortions of the Soviet Union’s terrible human rights record, and misrepresentations of what Andrei Sakharov, a very fine and honorable person, originally said about the plight of political prisoners in the Soviet Union.  Those attempting to compare state repression in the Soviet Union and Russia should be careful when making this comparison, and not “play politics” when it comes to discussions of such important issues.

Ivan (John) Jaworsky, Professor Emeritus, University of Waterloo (Canada)

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