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

In 1985, during the period from April 21 to October 23, Bonner never used a plural form in connection with Sakharov and herself, no "we," no "kisses from us," no joint signatures. But the recipients of these messages invariably saw texts which contained these plural forms. Not a single message that reached her family in Massachusetts escaped this kind of attention. Irina Kristi, as we have noted , was herself the unwitting bearer of one such false communication.  

 Such methods did not deceive Bonner's family in the United States, who had their own means of detecting forgeries. Nor were western correspondents satisfied by bland Soviet denials that Sakharov was on a hunger strike or that anything was amiss in his life. On the contrary, the appearance of videotapes added mystery to the subject and provided additional material for editorial columns. Throughout 1985, as in the summer of 1984, pressure was maintained on the Soviet government to clear up the Sakharov case in the interest of important Soviet foreign policy objectives, notably their concern at President Reagan's SDI program and their desire for a summit meeting. By June 1985, the Sakharov family in the United States had received a letter from Bonner, written the previous November and smuggled out of Gorky, which described accurately and in detail all that had happened to Sakharov during his enforced hospitalization from May to September 1984. Bonner's two children, Tatiana Yankelevich and Alexei Semyonov, released details from this letter at a human rights conference in Ottawa attended by Soviet representatives. At the United Nations, the family filed a petition seeking information on Sakharov as a disappeared person, a particularly sensitive forum for the Soviets to have to answer in.  

 As the summer of 1985 wore on, it became clear to the Soviet government that it could not hope for satisfactory negotiations with the Reagan administration so long as the question of Sakharov's fate continued to attract so much press attention. A senior KGB official, Sergei Sokolov, visited Sakharov in his hospital confinement in Gorky. He was the same officer who had authorized the first, brutal force-feeding, and had attempted cruelly to intimidate Bonner. At his first meeting with Sakharov, on June 30, 1985, Sokolov adopted the customary KGB approach of accusing Bonner of being a bad influence in Sakharov. On September 5, Sokolov appeared again in Sakharov's bedside to strike a deal: If Bonner were allowed to visit her family in America and receive medical treatment abroad, she would have to agree in writing that she would not speak at all to the press, and Sakharov himself would have to renounce his right ever to leave the Soviet Union. Sakharov was allowed to leave the hospital for a few hours to convey this agreement to Bonner. Weeks passed without any apparent development, weeks in which Alexei Semyonov staged a hunger strike in Washington to keep attention focused on the Sakharov case, and the United States Congress passed a resolution in support of him and his family.  

 In the fall of 1985, anticipation mounted in the news media that Sakharov might soon be released in order to prepare the way for the summit meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev, now scheduled for November 1985. On October 21, Bonner was summoned to the visa office in Gorky; permission for her to leave was forthcoming. The KGB wanted her to leave immediately, they had reserved a seat for her in Moscow the very next day. But they had reckoned without Bonner's strength of will. She refused to leave without seeing her husband, and without their having time to enjoy each other's company after their long ordeal. The KGB tried to trick her into accepting an emigration visa, which would have enable them to prevent her ever rejoining her husband, then into omitting the United State from her itinerary. Bonner was alert to everything. Twenty-four hours later, Sakharov was released from the Hospital, his purpose, at last, achieved. Bonner left Moscow on December 3 for Italy, to see her eye doctor. On December 7, 1985 she was in America with her family.  

 Bonner's first concern on arrival in America was to obtain treatment for her heart. In January, Boston surgeons performed six bypasses on her heart. Later, they operated also on the arteries of her right leg which had been giving her pain. The Soviet authorities extended her visa for an additional three months, giving her until June 1986 to enjoy her family and an extensive program of activities, including visits to California, Florida, New York, and Washington, and meetings with scientists, academics, and politicians. At the White House, she was received by the president's National Security Adviser, then Admiral Poindexter, who explained how strongly the president felt over her husband, but diplomatic considerations prevented him from meeting her himself.  

 Sakharov once told Bonner that he wanted to win her exit visa not only because she could obtain proper medical attention, but also because she was his mouthpiece, the one whom he could trust to represent his views to the leaders of the world. During her brief stay in Italy, she met with the Pope and the Prime Minister. In Britain, on her return to Moscow at the end of May 1986, she was received by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Other western leaders would also gladly have given her time.  

 Bonner's promise to the KGB not to speak to the press created a certain tension for her. She knew better that most people the importance of publicity for all those inside the Soviet Union who were struggling for elementary human rights; but she herself risked being refuse reentry to the Soviet Union if she said a word out of turn. The KGB probably hoped she would do so, thereby giving them excuse to cut her off permanently from her husband, leaving him alone in their clutches in Gorky. Her arrival in the West was widely reported and correspondents naturally hoped she would authenticate what had really happened to Sakharov and herself in Gorky. The difficulty was handled with great skill by her son and son-in law, Alexei Semyonov and Efrem Yankelevich, who flew to Italy to meet her plane from Moscow, and thereafter dealt with the press in their own right as free citizens of the West. As the correspondent for The New York Times put it: "The information about life in Gorky was supplied in interviews and in a news conference today by Efrem V. Yankelevich, Miss Bonner's son-in-law, and by Alexei I. Semyonov, her son.... They said their account was based on telephone conversation with Dr. Sakharov last month and on facts that had slipped out of Gorky. The information, they said, had been 'clarified' but not substantively added to by Miss Bonner."[6]  

 Among the information which was to slip out of Gorky early in 1986 was a copy of Sakharov's letter to Alexandrov, president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which he had written in the autumn of 1984 after his release from the hospital. In that letter, dated October 15, 1984, Sakharov detailed exactly what had been done to him by the KGB men in white coats and the doctors and nurses acting on their orders. The material, which the family could authenticate as being Sakharov's own words, made harrowing reading, a devastating indictment of the Soviet police state. This letter and other documents were published in late February and early March 1986 by the U.S. News & World Report (Feb. 24 and March 3) and by the London Observer.  

 Two days before she left America to the prison environment of Gorky, Bonner completed writing her own account of the three years that led up to her brief enjoyment of the free world. Entitled Alone Together, the book is a striking tribute to the marriage of two very remarkable people. Many of the facts in this present study are taken from this memoir and its invaluable appendices, though the quality of the author's mind and spirit can be fully appreciated only by reading the original and by understanding the circumstances in which it was written during six months of visiting in the United States. Bonner intended the book to complement Sakharov's autobiography which she knew was already in the West (and is yet to appear.) The existence of this autobiography had been kept secret, although the KGB were aware that Sakharov was writing it. Some of the most moving pages of Bonner's book describe occasions when Sakharov discovered the KGB had stolen large portions of his manuscript, leaving him as if bereft of a child. But he had found the strength to rewrite them, just as he found the strength to return to hunger strikes and the hospital tortures that ensued.  

 Alone Together was published by Knopf in the fall of 1986. When Sakharov's autobiography is published, these two books will constitute essential documents for students of this period of Soviet history.   

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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