Sakharov interview and material about him in the Soviet press and in samzidat
In an interview with the Swedish correspondent [Olle] Stenholm in mid-June Academician Sakharov stated: “In our country socialism has manifested itself in an unprecedented concentration of economic and political power, an exceptional degree of monopolization.”
He discussed the profound inequalities in our society, the bureaucratization of the leadership, the anti-democratic policy of imposing a single ideology on all citizens, and the isolation of Soviet society from the rest of the world. He considered illusory the social gains of Soviet society, “a society of maximal unfreedom”. To exemplify this point:
“People from the West often tell us that despite the many drawbacks of our system, we do at least have free medical care. For the tax-payer it is not free; it costs him considerably more than medical care in most Western countries but is of a very low quality.”
Sakharov said he supported the aim of a gradual democratization of society.
Shortly after this, TASS circulated an article about Sakharov by Yu. Kornilov entitled “A Slander Merchant”.
On 16 August Malyarov, Deputy Procurator-General of the USSR, had a talk with Sakharov and gave him a warning. He characterized Sakharov’s position as anti-Soviet and subversive. Moreover, he stated that when meeting foreigners Sakharov relayed information that could prove useful to foreign intelligence services. Sakharov categorically denied these charges.
At a press conference in his flat on 21 August Sakharov interpreted the procurator’s “warning” as an attempt to forbid any deviation from the prescribed line, based on the elastic concept of “a State’s right to self-defence.” In reply to questions, Sakharov stated that a détente which did not presuppose the democratization of Soviet society, but was based on terms dictated by the USSR, would be dangerous and would fail to resolve the problems facing the world. Freed of its economic difficulties, which it could not resolve alone, the Soviet Union would be able to build up its strength, and a disarmed world would find itself confronted with a powerful state in which, under the mask of a love of peace, everything would be concealed from the outside world.
Detente, he believed, should go hand in hand with a renunciation by the socialist countries of their isolation from the world.
On 24 and 26 August respectively [French and Austrian Communist newspapers] L’Humanite and Volksstimme published articles condemning Sakharov’s position. They were reprinted by Pravda and Izvestia on 24 and 27 August.
On 28 August the Soviet press began to carry a letter by 40 members of the USSR Academy of Sciences, censuring A. D. Sakharov for his statements “….against the Soviet Union’s policy of détente ….” They were indignant at his activity which “….discredits the honour and dignity of a Soviet scientist”. Among the signatories were: N. G. Basov, M. A. Markov, A. N. Nesmeyanov, A. M. Prokhorov, N. N. Semyonov, I. M. Frank, Yu. B. Khariton, P. A. Cherenkov, V. A. Engelgardt.
During the week that followed, all the cultural unions and the Academy of Sciences took up the call. Moreover, central and local newspapers printed letters each day from individuals. A sample of the headlines given to these materials reflects the nature and tone of the campaign of condemnation:
“A Foul Endeavour,” “Unseemly Behaviour,” “Playing Into the Hands of Reactionary Forces,” “At One with the Enemy,” “Cut Off From the People,” “From the Opposite Pole,” “A Rebuff to the Slanderer,” “Outraged!” (Pravda, August and September);
“The Limit of Degradation” (Izvestiya, September), and “We Angrily Condemn …” (Literaturnaya Gazeta, September).
Although the campaign subsequently abated, it flared up again on 18 September after Galich, Maximov and Sakharov had appealed to the Chilean government on behalf of Pablo Neruda. Their appeal stated:
“… His glorious name is indissolubly linked with the Latin American people’s struggle for spiritual and national liberation. The death of this great man would long darken the epoch of Chile’s rebirth and consolidation that your government has proclaimed. ”
The Soviet press accused Sakharov of supporting Chile’s military government. A lead article in the magazine Kommunist stated:
“What this capitulation leads to is obvious from Sakharov’s ‘personal message’ to the military junta of Chile, in which he panders to the usurpers of power – tyrants of the Chilean people – calling the barbaric regime they have established an epoch of ‘rebirth and consolidation’!”
On 8 September Sakharov issued a statement pointing out that the newspaper campaign was deliberately aimed at distorting his position, and that he had been presented almost as an advocate of war. “This is unconscionable exploitation of the anti-war feelings of the nation that suffered most terribly during World War II. ” A. D. Sakharov believes that his many interventions against the conducting of nuclear tests in the atmosphere made a contribution to the Moscow Treaty of 1963 which [partially] banned nuclear testing. In conclusion he states:
“The newspaper campaign which has involved hundreds of people … greatly distresses me, as it is yet another manifestation of the use of cruel force against the exercise of conscience …” And he added: “… it is just such a newspaper campaign, so irrational and cruel in its effects on its participants, that is likely to undermine detente.”
On 1 September Valentin Turchin, D.Phil (Physical-Mathematical Sciences), issued an Open Letter. Noting that Sakharov’s public activities had always been directed towards the defence of human rights and the relaxation of international tension [detente], he said that the newspaper campaign had undermined the international prestige of the Soviet Union.
Early in September Igor R. Shafarevich, a member of the Moscow Committee on Human Rights and a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, spoke out in defence of Sakharov. Shafarevich expressed serious fears about Sakharov’s fate.
On 7 September Lydia Chukovskaya published an article [in samizdat] entitled “The People’s Wrath” [Gnev Naroda], in which she wrote:
“… the persecution of samizdat, of A Chronicle of Current Events, of Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, and hundreds of others cannot be called ideological struggle. It is an attempt once again to silence human voices through the use of prisons and camps.”
With respect to Sakharov:
“He may be violating the chief law of our land; not the one written in the Constitution, but the chief, the unwritten law—the law on the preservation of silence.”
Letter from political prisoners in the Perm camps
We warmly support Academician A. D. Sakharov’s struggle for civil rights and freedoms in the USSR. We want to convey our deep respect to this courageous and noble man. Let all those who have signed “protests” against Sakharov know that with the help of their names it is easier for our jailers to torment and oppress us.
We want to use this valuable opportunity to refute before the whole world the lies of the traitor P. Yakir about the absence in the USSR of a democratic movement. Hundreds of political prisoners — active participants in this movement — have not betrayed their democratic convictions. We believe that the cause of democratizing the Soviet system, the cause of Sakharov, Solzhenitsyn, Bukovsky and Grigorenko, will prevail.
- V. Platonov, scholar of Oriental Studies (7-year term)
- V. Uzlov, technician (4 years)
- V. Chesnokov, former serviceman (10 years)
- M. Sado, Oriental scholar (13 years)
- N. Braun Jr., poet (7 years plus 3 of exile)
- S. Malchevsky, worker (7 + 3)
- Yu. Fyodorov, former police captain (6 years)
- D. Chernoglaz, agronomist (5)
- S. Kudirka, former sailor and signalman (10)
- J. Silinskas, worker (5)
- V. Melikyan, engineer and economist (4)
- K. Vasilyan, technician (7)
- L. Lukyanenko, jurist and former procurator (15)
- M. Makarenko, artist and restorer, former Director of the Painting Gallery of the Siberian Division of the USSR Academy of Sciences (8)
- Ya. Suslensky, teacher (7)
- S. Ponomaryov, teacher (5)
[See Note 1, Commentary No 30].
Perm Region, September 1973
From Solzhenitsyn’s interview with correspondents of Le Monde and Associated Press (Moscow, 23 August 1973)
“Sakharov is now being denounced as a ‘slander-merchant’ an ignoramus, a naive dreamer and — above all—an unconstructive critic with a malicious hatred of his country.
“One would be hard put to fabricate a more inept series of charges. Every accusation hurled at him is so wide of the mark. People familiar with the articles Sakharov has written over recent years, his ideas on social change, his search for ways to save the planet from destruction, his letters to governmental officials and his friendly urgings, cannot fail to detect the profound grasp he has of the internal processes of Soviet life, the suffering he experiences for his country, the anguish he feels for its mistakes, which are not committed by him, and his generous, conciliatory attitudes, which are acceptable to groups with quite antithetical viewpoints.”