ISSN 2330-717X

Image Of Sakharov, Once Conscience Of Nation, An Increasingly Blurred Figure For Russians – OpEd


The month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Academician Andrey Sakharov who developed the hydrogen bomb and then became the leading spokesman for humanism and democracy against the Soviet regime. He was attacked by that regime but supported by a majority of Soviet citizens who viewed him as their defender.

But now, more than three decades after his death, Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center says, the image of Sakharov has become blurred. He is rarely referred to in government media, is increasingly an unknown figure for those too young to remember his work at the end of Soviet times, and is increasingly remembered in a way that distorts his life.

Instead of remembering him as a champion of human rights, Gudkov says, polls show that ever more Russians who remember him at all remember instead his role as the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, no small thing of course but not what Sakharov himself would have wanted to be remembered for (

That shift says more about the passing of time and the way in which the Russian regime, especially since Vladimir Putin came to power, has worked hard to undermine everything Sakharov was associated with in his public life. And it likely explains why there was little outrage when the regime decided to ban an exhibit on his life on this anniversary.

The important thing, the sociologist suggests, is that the values Academician Sakharov stood for and spoke out in defense of remain a bright shining light for the future of Russia and humanity, whatever the temporary rulers of Russian may do to try to suppress them and him at the present time.

Indeed, in thinking about Sakharov and his political enemies, it is hard not to recall an exchange between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the prime minister of Greece. Khrushchev threatened the Greek leader by saying that if Athens did not break with the West, it might be necessary for the Soviet Union to drop an atomic bomb on the acropolis.

The prime minister responded that of course the USSR might be able to destroy the acropolis with nuclear bombs, but it would never be able to destroy the ideas that were developed there. The same thing is true of Sakharov’s message, and that is what people should be remembering on this centenary of his birth. 

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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