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A tribute to Andrei Sakharov, champion of Freedom

Drawing by Ali Ferzat
A tribute to Andrei Sakharov, champion of Freedom
Article by: George Pinchuk

Twenty-seven years ago, on December 14, 1989, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov died of a heart attack at the age of 68. Most definitely, he was the bravest and the most consistent accusers of the Soviet totalitarianism.

A nuclear physicist called “the father of the Soviet H-bomb,” Sakharov became deeply concerned about the real possibility of the “nuclear winter,” which would extinguish humankind. According to his own words, as a young man he believed that the USSR was basically a great country where the educational system was great and where everyone was “socially protected.” However, later in life he encountered the dark side of the Soviet system.

In 1968, Andrei Dmitrievich wrote an essay, titled, “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Co-Existence, and Intellectual Freedom.” It was a very “benevolent,” peaceful narrative of Sakharov’s ideas about the future, particularly his belief in the “convergence” between the West and the Soviet block. He sent it to a number of Soviet newspapers, but it was completely ignored. Then he sent it to the Central Committee of the Communist Party with a plea to publish it, but again, he was ignored. By that time, his “Reflections” were circulating all over the USSR as typewritten copies, and, finally, they were published in the Netherlands and then in the USA. Sakharov was immediately removed from his position at a Soviet research center in physics.


He continued to work at home, concentrating on fundamental problems of the theory of physical processes, and also meeting with people who were critical to the abuse of human rights in the USSR. In 1970, he became a co-founder of the Committee of Human Rights in the USSR, back then completely illegal. By the end of the 1970’s, the Committee collected hundreds of volumes of information about violations of most basic human rights in the so-called “Socialist countries.” The Soviet media continued to malign Sakharov, picturing him as a traitor bribed by “Capitalists.” But Andrei Dmitrievich continued his struggle and, in 1975, received his Nobel Peace Prize.

When the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, Sakharov openly and vehemently protested. In January 1980, he was arrested and forced into an internal exile to the city of Nizhniy Novgorod (back then, Gorky). He was banned from any contact with any person who had not been approved by the Soviet secret police (KGB). In 1984 and 1985, he went on hunger strikes, protesting against his life in captivity and against the decision of the Soviet government not to let his wife Yelena Boner travel abroad for badly needed heart surgery. Eventually, in 1986, Gorbachev allowed the Sakharovs to return to Moscow and Bonner to have her surgery in the USA.

In early 1989, Sakharov became a member of the new Soviet parliament, where he spoke many times in defense of human rights and freedoms. However, his health deteriorated, and at about 9 p.m. on December 14, 1989, Yelena Bonner found him in his study lying on the floor with a massive, fatal heart attack.  Memory Eternal to this unique humanist and fighter for human rights, for a better world!

An annual prize named after Sakharov, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, named after Soviet scientist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, was established in December 1988 by the European Parliament as a means to honor individuals or organizations who have dedicated their lives to the defense of human rights and freedom of thought. The winners of the 2016 prize are Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar, two Yazidee human rights activists and ex-ISIS captives who are raising awareness on the plight of Yazidees executed by ISIS and sold into sex slavery.

A list of all the Sakharov prize laureates from Wikipedia. [Ukrainian laureates included the Euromaidan movement (2014), captive Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (2015) and Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev (2016) – Ed.]

Year Recipient Nationality Notes
1988 Nelson Mandela South Africa Anti-apartheid activist and later President of South Africa
1988 Anatoly Marchenko (posthumously) Soviet Union Soviet dissident, author and human rights activist
1989 Alexander Dubček Czechoslovakia Slovak politician, attempted to reform the communist regime during the Prague Spring
1990 Aung San Suu Kyi Burma Opposition politician and a former General Secretary of the National League for Democracy
1991 Adem Demaçi Kosovo Kosovo Albanian Politician and long-term political prisoner
1992 Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Argentina Association of Argentine mothers whose children disappeared during the Dirty War
1993 Oslobođenje Bosnia and Herzegovina Popular newspaper, continued to publish after its office building was destroyed in Sarajevo
1994 Taslima Nasrin Bangladesh Ex-doctor, feminist author
1995 Leyla Zana Kurdistan A female politician of Kurdish descent from North Kurdistan, who was imprisoned for 10 years for speaking her native language of Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament
1996 Wei Jingsheng China An activist in the Chinese democracy movement
1997 Salima Ghezali Algeria Journalist and writer, an activist of women’s rights, human rights and democracy in Algeria
1998 Ibrahim Rugova Kosovo Albanian politician, the first President of Kosovo
1999 Xanana Gusmão East Timor Former militant who was the first President of East Timor
2000 ¡Basta Ya! Spain Organisation uniting individuals of various political positions against terrorism
2001 Nurit Peled-Elhanan Israel Peace activist
2001 Izzat Ghazzawi Palestine Writer, professor.
2001 Dom Zacarias Kamwenho Angola Archbishop and peace activist
2002 Oswaldo Payá Cuba Political activist and dissident
2003 Kofi Annan (& United Nations) Ghana Nobel Peace Prize recipient and seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations
2004 Belarusian Association of Journalists Belarus Non-governmental organisation “aiming to ensure freedom of speech and rights of receiving and distributing information and promoting professional standards of journalism”
2005 Ladies in White Cuba Opposition movement, relatives of jailed dissidents
2005 Reporters Without Borders International France-based non-governmental organisation advocating freedom of the press
2005 Hauwa Ibrahim Nigeria Human rights lawyer
2006 Alaksandar Milinkievič Belarus Politician chosen by United Democratic Forces of Belarus as the joint candidate of the opposition in the presidential elections of 2006
2007 Salih Mahmoud Osman Sudan Human rights lawyer
2008 Hu Jia China Activist and dissident
2009 Memorial Russia International civil rights and historical society
2010 Guillermo Fariñas Cuba Doctor, journalist, and political dissident
2011 Asmaa Mahfouz, Ahmed al-Senussi, Razan Zaitouneh, Ali Farzat, Mohamed Bouazizi (posthumously) Egypt, Libya, Syria, Syria, Tunisia Five representatives of the Arab people, in recognition and support of their drive for freedom and human rights.
2012 Jafar Panahi, Nasrin Sotoudeh Iran Iranian activists, Sotoudeh is a lawyer and Panahi is a film director.
2013 Malala Yousafzai Pakistan Campaigner for women’s rights and education
2014 Denis Mukwege DR Congo Gynecologist treating victims of gang rape
2015 Raif Badawi Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabian writer and activist and the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals
2016 Nadia Murad Basee and Lamiya Aji Bashar Iraq Yazidi human rights activists and former abductees of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
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