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The emergence of Sakharov as a focus of dissent from the closed world of the Soviet Union's privileged elite has been one of the most remarkable events of the last quarter century. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it:  

"Our hearts beat faster as we realized that at last someone had broken out of the deep, untroubled, cozy torpor in which Soviet scientists get on with their scientific work, are rewarded with a life of plenty and pay for it by keeping their thoughts at the level of their test tubes."[1] 
Sakharov may have lacked Solzhenitsyn's gifts as a writer and he certainly had no personal experience of the world of prison camps and forced labor which gave Solzhenitsyn's great book The Gulag Archipelago, its searing authenticity. But Sakharov quickly learned the importance of publicity. In this he was ably supported by his wife, Elena Bonner, whom he married in 1971 after the death of his first wife from cancer. In the summer 1973, when the struggle between the dissidents and the KGB entered a critical phase - well described by Solzhenitsyn in his chapter "Encounter Battle" in The Oak and the Calf - Sakharov summoned foreign correspondents to a press conference in his apartment in Moscow. It was the first time anyone had dared do such a thing. Solzhenitsyn and others had given interviews to individual correspondents, but none of them enjoyed the status of Sakharov as an establishment figure. To his frustration, the KGB was unable to silence Sakharov.  

In 1975 his book My Country and the World was published abroad and in December of the same year his international stature was further enhanced by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time when he should have been in Oslo to collect his prize, Sakharov was instead planning to attend the trial of a prominent dissident in Lithuania. (The Soviet authorities had denied him permission to travel to Norway - his speech was read by his wife.) Some days before, members of a BBC television team had made their way to his apartment, successfully evading the KGB, and Sakharov had recorded an interview which was shown in Britain on the eve of the Nobel prize ceremonies. That a man of his standing could achieve such prominence in the free world's media, would have been unthinkable under Stalin. But the Soviet authorities could do little about it as long as there were political benefits to be reaped from the policy of detente.  

 With Solzhenitsyn's forcible expulsion from the Soviet Union in June 1974, Sakharov was left as the best known of Soviet dissidents to whom many others looked for guidance and support. He was not so much their leader as their champion before world opinion. Thus when the Helsinki Watch Group was set up in 1976 by a number of scientist and writer to monitor the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Accords signed the previous year, Sakharov welcomed the move, though he declined to become a member himself. Bonner, however, did join the group as a founder-member. The major newspapers, magazines and television networks of the free world conducted interviews with him on issues connected with human rights, their Moscow correspondents meeting with him in his small apartment on a regular informal basis. Sakharov himself addressed letters and appeals on behalf of individual dissidents to heads of state and prime ministers, to international organizations and fellow scientists, and to newspapers themselves when he thought his views had been mistranslated or misunderstood. His name was thus invariably singled out in the free world's media whenever American-Soviet relations were being discussed.  

 These activities reached a climax in a highly publicized correspondence with President Carter as the latter entered the White House in January 1977, pledge to support human rights everywhere in the world. As a result, Time magazine in February 1977 featured Sakharov as its cover story, a striking demonstration of Sakharov's status as dissident-in-chief in the eye of the world. But at this very moment, Sakharov was deeply disturbed by a new development.  

 On January 8, 1977 a bomb exploded in a car on the Moscow subway killing a number of people and injuring many other. Two days later TASS announced what had happened, and the very same day an article by Victor Louis appeared in the London Evening News which implied that the explosion was the work of Soviet dissidents. Louis is a Soviet journalist who, in several books, has been accused of having ties with the KGB. Sakharov at once put out one of his sharpest statements yet, attacking what seemed to be a new campaign by the KGB to portray the dissidents as terrorists, a campaign which already had succeeded in confusing some foreign reporters. Though he did not accuse the KGB outright of planting the bomb, the tone of his statement clearly implied that they were capable of doing so. "I cannot shake off the deep sense that the explosion in the Moscow subway with its tragic deaths is a new provocation of the agencies of repression - the most dangerous in recent years....I would be very happy to have my concern prove false." To Sakharov, the subway bomb and the KGB's response seemed an ominous reminder of the use the Nazis had made of the Reichstag fire. In the topsy turvy world of Soviet life, it was the organs of the state that regularly resorted to terror and criminal acts, while the dissidents were striving for order and due legal process. Non-violence and insisting on strict observance of the state's own laws lay at the heart of the dissident movement. Sakharov attacked the "criminal acts of the repressive organs" which he itemized as "attack, beating, forgery, provocation, defamation, threats of murder, and, apparently, even the commission of political murder." He drew attention to the "new phenomenon" of "planting foreign currency, pornography, and the like during searches." "No less repulsive," he continued, "is the slander aimed at discrediting dissident in the eyes of trusting and uninformed people in the USSR and the West."[2]  

Index of Papers   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10 
11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  References 

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