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(SAKHAROV, THE KGB AND THE MASS MEDIA Cont'd)

The KGB was, as it turned out, preparing to clamp down on the dissidents behind a smokescreen of disinformation directed at the foreign media. In February and March 1977, Yury Orlov, Alexander Ginsburg, and Anatoly Shcharansky, the chairman and founding members respectively of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Committee, were arrested and a year later, after a delay to avoid embarrassing the proceedings of detente, given harsh sentences.  

 Sakharov's activities posed a special problem for the Soviets. Because of his work on developing the Soviet Union's hydrogen bomb, the government considered it unsafe simply to expel him from the Soviet Union, as they had expelled Solzhenitsyn in 1974. By this time Sakharov's knowledge of Soviet nuclear technology, particularly military technology, was probably of no value to the West; but the pride the Soviets took in their own scientific achievements gave them a sense of collective ownership of the man who had given Russia such military power. He was, after all, a world-famous Russian scientist, if not a dutiful Soviet one.  

 Because Sakharov belonged to the Soviet Union's scientific elite and maintained many of the privileges of this elite, the KGB could not remove him to a labor camp in Siberia as they did lesser-known scientific who participated in the human rights movement. Thus while other dissidents were systematically harassed, exile, humiliated, subjected to psychiatric torture, or in some cases murdered, Sakharov retained the freedom to speak out on their behalf. His presence in Moscow, where contact with Western media representatives, embassy officials, and fellow scientists was relatively simple, was a constant provocation to the KGB, a festering thorn in their flesh, or, as Khrushchev would have said, a bone in the throat.  

 The Carter presidency saw the end of detente and a rapid deterioration in the human rights movement within the Soviet Union. With the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in January 1979 and the invasion by the Soviet Union of Afghanistan in the last days of 1979, relations between the Soviet Union and the United States became once more frigid, Symbolized by the American boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980. Sakharov had publicly protested the invasion of Afghanistan. The KGB immediately moved against him. In January 1980, he was ordered to leave Moscow for the city of Gorky, 250 miles away, which was closed to all foreigners.  

 In exiling Sakharov to Gorky, the KGB intended in the first place to isolate him from the contacts with foreigners and fellow dissidents he had kept up in Moscow. It was now no longer possible for him to appear in person at court hearings involving human rights issues or to speak to Western journalists. But his wife, Bonner, was not subject to the same restriction; she was free to travel between Gorky and Moscow, thus maintaining a slender lifeline to their circle of friends and the outside world. Thank to this lifeline, Sakharov was able to publish in the West his important essay, "On the Danger of Thermonuclear War," (in Foreign Affairs, 1983) which challenged Soviet thinking on the subject. But once reports of his exile had received due attention in western news media in the early months of 1980, there was undoubtedly a falling off of interest in Sakharov himself and in the dissident movement generally, measured solely in terms of newspaper coverage. In 1982, the Helsinki Watch Group was dissolved. With Orlov and Shcharansky in forced labor camps, and others threatened with a similar fate, the opposition movement had virtually come to an end.  

 The KGB had a second motive in their move against Sakharov, which was to separate him from Bonner. Bonner's two children by her first husband, Tatiana and Alexei, had been subjected to various forms of official and unofficial harassment, including loss of job possibilities, negative grading in university courses, and even death threats. As a result, Tatiana and her husband, Efrem Yankelevich, a gifted electronic engineer who was himself the victim of official harassment, emigrated to the United States in 1977, settling in Newton, Massachusetts. The next year, Alexei Semyonov, Bonner's son, also emigrated to Massachusetts, leaving his future wife, Liza Alexeyeva, in Moscow. Semyonov had not yet obtained a divorce from his first marriage; he and the Sakharovs assumed there would be no difficulty in Liza's joining him in the United States once he was free to marry her. But she was now refused permission to leave, another way of harassing the Sakharovs by hurting their children.  

 Alexei thereupon married Liza by proxy. After further refusal by the authorities to grant Liza permission to join her husband, Sakharov and Bonner underwent a hunger strike in November 1981 on her behalf. They were put into different hospitals, but after 17 days the authorities gave way and a few days before Christmas, 1981, Liza flew to America. In 1980, Bonner's mother, Ruth, had visited the Yankelevich family. Because of the precarious nature of the life that Sakharov and Bonner were forced to lead in Gorky, Ruth Bonner remained in Newton.  

 On three separate occasions, in 1975, 1977, and 1979, the Soviet authorities had allowed Bonner to leave the Soviet Union for Italy for treatment for her eyes. (It was on the first of these trips, in 1975, that she had been able to return via Oslo to deliver Sakharov's Nobel Prize speech on his behalf.) In 1982, another consultation with her Italian eye specialist became necessary, but this time the authorities simply ignored her request to leave. The strain of travelling between Gorky and Moscow was taking its toll on Bonner's health. Her attempts to give support to friends harassed by the KGB led to increased harassment of herself. On the train from Gorky one night she was verbally abused by fellow passengers and she began to fear for her physical safety.  

 Meanwhile, the KGB was assiduously promoting the idea that Bonner was an unscrupulous woman who was being used by the CIA and was leading Sakharov astray through selfish motives of her own. "Madame Bonner-Sakharov's evil genius?" read the title of a KGB-inspired article in Russky Golos, a small Russian language paper published in New York in 1976.[3] In 1983, a certain Nikolai Yakovlev published further anti-semitic, anti-american charges against Bonner in a widely read Soviet periodical. The Soviet government then published Yakovlev's articles in English in a book about the CIA which was distributed by Soviet embassies abroad. Bonner and Sakharov decided to sue Yakovlev for criminal libel, but her case was blocked by the authorities.  

 In April 1983, Bonner suffered a heart attack. Every action she took now caused her great pain; her life was in serious danger. Treatment in Soviet hospitals would have been possible, but both Sakharov and Bonner knew that if she were once separated from her husband in a Soviet hospital, they might never see each other again. Bonner therefore renewed her appeals for permission to leave the Soviet Union for medical treatment in the West. Sakharov added his appeals to his wife's, and together they fought back against the public charges that had been made on Bonner's integrity.  

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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