Sakharov’s Friends and Enemies, December 1975 (38.1)

<<No 38 : 31 December 1975>>

On 9 October 1975 the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament awarded the annual Nobel Prize for activities contributing to peace to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.

Sakharov heard the news from foreign journalists on the evening of 9 October. He said:

“I hope this will benefit political prisoners in our country. I hope it will strengthen the struggle for human rights in which I have participated. I consider that this prize has been awarded not so much for my personal services as in recognition of the contribution made by all those who are fighting for human rights, freedom of the press, and freedom of conscience, especially those who have paid so dearly for this by losing their liberty.

“I hope that now, in an era of detente, the award of this prize to someone who does not fully share the official point of view will not be regarded as a challenge to that official position but will be accepted as an expression of the spirit and tolerance and broad-mindedness, the spirit which should be an indispensable part of the process of detente.

“From this viewpoint, I have in recent months often called for an amnesty for political prisoners and now, after hearing that I have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I should like to repeat that call . . . And, of course, l feel deeply grateful to the Norwegian Parliament.”


Letters and telegrams of congratulation addressed to A. D. Sakharov poured in. From 9 to 22 October, 34 telegrams were received from various parts of our country and 33 telegrams from abroad.

Sakharov received two congratulatory messages from Vladimir Prison:

Vladimir, 10 October 1975

Dear Andrei Dmitrievich,

I have just heard a radio report on the great honour done you, which you deserve (alas, this was only a commentary on it, so it must obviously have happened earlier).

I sincerely rejoice on your behalf and warmly congratulate you! On behalf of myself and all our friends, I wish you many more fruitful years of activity in the name of Science, Peace and Democracy, and to their benefit. Keep healthy, for God’s sake, and may your fortress of the spirit never fall!

We are all proud of you and send our love!

We shall yet see the sky lit up for you!

I warmly embrace you.

Yours, K. Lyubarsky


Dear Andrei Dmitrievich,

I am one of those among your friends who are forced to ‘reside’ temporarily in the Vladimir central prison, where I am sharing a cell with Kronid Lyubarsky. Our life here is somewhat monotonous and allows us few pleasures.

Suddenly yesterday, however, on 10 October, we heard of your award, through the disapproving comments of the [Austrian CP’s] Volksstimme newspaper, which were quoted on the radio. And the sun shone in through our barred window.

I am not at all sure, of course, that this card will reach you — it has a difficult journey ahead of it. However, if it reaches you, I and my fellow Jews who were arrested in December 1970-May 1971 [CCE 17.6] would like you to know that we place you in the brilliant line of Russian humanists and internationalists, those like Korolenko and Kuprin, a line which will never die out.

History has shown that democracy is the only environment in which our small nation can develop normally. This is the second reason for our great joy today. We say the word ‘Peace’ on meeting and in parting, and those who truly fight for peace are very dear to us. History is made today, when you demonstrate in front of the Egyptian embassy on the day when our Homeland is once again attacked, today — when people come to your home wearing pistols, to try to teach you how to behave. But history will be written tomorrow.


Gilel Butman


The Crimean Tatars circulated an open letter in samizdat (with 20 signatures), congratulating Sakharov.

Issue 19 of the Chronicle of the Lithuanian Catholic Church published a message of congratulation from Lithuanians.

Numerous congratulatory letters reached Sakharov by unofficial post.


A. D. Sakharov also received six hostile telegrams:

  • from the employees of the Grodno regional theatre (23 October);
  • from Sorokin, also from Grodno;
  • from Vasilyev, head of the Siberian Meteorological Scientific Research Institute (24 October);
  • from the machine-operators of the Kalinin collective farm, Znamensky district, Tambov Region, and Viktorov, the collective farm chairman (31 October);
  • from the teaching staff of the Yangier branch of Tashkent Engineering Institute for Irrigation and Agricultural Mechanization (3 November);
  • and an anonymous telegram without a text arrived from Italy, addressed to “Andrei Sakharov, traitor, Moscow”.


A Swedish journalist went for a walk in the Krasnaya Presnya district of Moscow and asked the first twelve passers-by how they reacted to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to A. D. Sakharov. Ten people expressed their satisfaction, two their indignation.


On 11 October the Soviet press launched a pogrom-like campaign against Sakharov, beginning as always with quotations from the Western Communist press.


The basic commentaries were published mainly in Literaturnaya gazeta: for two months the “Sakharov column” was almost a permanent feature.

In the press and other media of propaganda it was asserted more than once that the Nobel Peace Prize had systematically been awarded to reactionary figures (usually unnamed; at any rate, Carl [von] Ossietsky, Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King were not mentioned). The late Nobel was referred to as the inventor of dynamite.


On 25 October Izvestiya printed a “Declaration of Soviet scientists”, signed by 72 full and corresponding members of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Veniamin Levich, a corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, wrote an “open letter to seventy-two colleagues in the Academy of Sciences” in which he expresses his amazement: what could have made scientists, many of whom have undoubtedly served the cause of science, sign “a document so far removed from truth and justice?”

Vladimir Kornilov, 1928-2002

The writers L. Chukovskaya, V. Voinovich and V. Kornilov also responded to the declaration:

“Seventy-two academicians have protested against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Andrei Sakharov, setting themselves against world public opinion and all the honest people in our country.

“With cold readiness, at the beckoning of somebody’s directing finger, they signed a letter which repeats almost word for word the recently published fabrications by a certain A. Viktorov in Literaturnaya gazeta [15 October]. These include accusations of slander against the Soviet system, of sympathy for the regime in Chile (refuted by Sakharov himself), and of pity for the fate of the ‘unfortunate [Rudolf] Hess’ (taken out of context). And, as always in such cases, there is not a word of truth.

“The truth is that Sakharov is selflessly fighting for a true detente in international relations, against the arbitrary violence that sends people to gaols and psychiatric hospitals for their beliefs; he constantly campaigns for freedom of opinion, for an amnesty for political prisoners, for all that can be called ‘human rights’.”

The writer Lev Kopelev, in his article “Andrei Sakharov’s Achievement”, writes:

. . . Sakharov’s good name will live for centuries. And in its undying light the column of names propping up the ‘declaration’ arouses perplexity and a sad feeling of disgust. Until 1953 it would have been dangerous to refuse to sign a text like this. Nowadays, however, a scientist risks only the temporary disfavour of the authorities or slight difficulties in his career.

Have these educated, experienced and mostly elderly people really not realized that each person who has passed the age of seventy has less and less time left to atone for his sins? No official honours, praise, decorations, not even genuine services to science, will save them from the contempt of their contemporaries and descendants, from the merciless judgement of their own conscience in the last hours of their lives. The most eloquent obituaries, the grandest monuments over their graves will not balance the shameful weight of such a signature.

It is hard to imitate Sakharov’s example — he is a hero. It is, however, possible for anyone to refuse to participate in the persecution of a man who embodies the living conscience of the nation.


The following joint ‘declaration for the press’ was signed by Andrei Amalrik, Roy Medvedev, Valentin Turchin, Yury Orlov, Vladimir Kornilov, Vladimir Voinovich, Sergei Zheludkov, Osip Cherny, Ernst Neizvestny, Pyotr Grigorenko, Reshat Dzhemilev and Vitaly Rubin:

A. D. Sakharov’s entire public activity is based on the premise that true peace is impossible until governments recognize basic human rights. Violence directed inwards sooner or later turns outwards. For example, the ‘peace pact’ between Stalin and Hitler in 1939 became a prelude to the most terrible war in the history of mankind.

It would have been ridiculous if, in 1939, a peace prize had been given to Stalin and Hitler, and someone who spoke out about the victims of Hitlerism and Stalinism had been attacked for being ‘an opponent of detente’.

We now see, from the decision of the Nobel Committee, that the terrible experiences of history have not been in vain.

So we were all the more surprised and offended by the declaration of 72 Soviet scientists, which asserted that the Nobel Committee’s decision was ‘unworthy and provocative’. The words ‘unworthy and provocative’* could be better applied to the manner in which a few words, taken out of context and mixed with complete fabrications, are made out to be the views held by the Nobel prizewinner. We assume that the majority of those who signed the declaration were deceived, as the picture given in it of A. D. Sakharov bears no resemblance to the real Sakharov.



On 28 October the newspaper Trud published a piece entitled “A Chronicle of Fashionable Life”, signed ‘Z. Azbel’, in its ‘Political Topics’ column.

On 2 November Raisa Lert, a member of the Union of Soviet Journalists and a member of the CPSU since 1926, sent an open letter to the editors of Trud. The Chronicle publishes her letter in full:

It was a shameful and terrible experience to read in your ‘political topics’ column the article ‘A Chronicle of Fashionable Life’, published in your newspaper on 28 October 1975.

I felt shame for the author and the editors, and terror for the society which is allowed a press only of this sort.

You published this mud-slinging piece in order to turn your readers against Academician Sakharov out of disgust. However, in every man of integrity it will produce an aversion to your paper and to those who inspired your action.

I am not going to analyse here the opinions and convictions of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. As l do not agree with many of his expressed views, I could well argue with him if he had the opportunity of answering my arguments in his own country. He has been gagged — and so I will not argue with him publicly.

However, that which was published in your paper is not an argument. Neither is it ‘ideological struggle’. It is merely a bucket of filth deliberately poured over the head of a pure, honest and humane man, who ‘lifted his head from scientific calculations, looked around, and perceived the general disorder in human affairs’.

It is for this that you hate him and throw dirt at him. He should have kept on sitting over his scientific calculations and should not have disturbed the monopoly of power: only you yourselves are allowed to speak of ‘the general disorder in human affairs’ — and only in the sense required.

I do not know who Karavansky and Paulaitis are, but I do know the identity of Leonid Plyushch, Vladimir Bukovsky, Andrei Tverdokhlebov, Pyotr Grigorenko, Semyon Gluzman and many, many others, in whose defence Academician Sakharov has raised his courageous voice. These are people languishing in prison, camps and psychiatric hospitals, who are being brought close to death or to the edge of real psychiatric illness merely because they demand that the democratic freedoms proclaimed by us should be put into practice in our country.

Perhaps the blood of the Soviet people is on the hands of the talented scientists Leonid Plyushch or Andrei Tverdokhlebov? Or on the hands of mathematician Revolt Pimenov? Or perhaps on the hands of the communist Pyotr Grigorenko, honoured general of the Soviet Army, who has spent five years in a psychiatric hospital? Or maybe on the hands of Viktor Nekrasov, one of our most honest and talented writers, who fought in the trenches of Stalingrad and wrote about it one of the best books in Soviet literature? This author has now been forced abroad and his books are quietly being removed from libraries. Perhaps the blood of Soviet people is on the hands of Valentyn Moroz, who wanted to preserve the treasure of Ukrainian culture from illiterate Russifiers and greedy plunderers? No, it is his blood that is on the hands of those prison officers who planted in his cell common criminals armed with knives.

There is indeed a large group of criminals whose hands really are stained with the blood of the Soviet people. You keep quiet about them. They are the officials of the punitive organs, those whose deeds in the glorious years 1937, 1949 and 1953 will ever be remembered. Some of them are continuing their activities, but the majority of them have settled down: some died in their beds or in privileged hospitals, mourned by their families and Party organizations; others were provided with large pensions and are enjoying ‘a well-earned rest’. The blood they spilt in the interrogation rooms of the Lubyanka, Butyrka and other prisons, in Kolyma, Vorkuta and Karaganda — does that blood not disturb you?

Their successors are still at work today — with less bloodshed but great illegality. Sakharov concerns himself with their victims. And you cannot forgive him for this, because you are concerned not for the victims but for the executioners.

You dared to upbraid Sakharov for the fact that, although he was born in 1921, he took no part in the war but ‘quietly continued his education’. Where would our country be now, if we had thrown all our scientists and students into the carnage of war (as was the case with the many scientific workers who voluntarily responded to the 1941 call-up in Moscow)? Millions fought, but millions did their part behind the lines. And you dare to reproach the young man who was made an Academician for his great services to science, who was three times made a Hero of Socialist Labour! There are not many people you could name who have given such a return for the education they received.

‘Because of his inclinations (?), he was in no hurry to share the heroic lot of his contemporaries .. .’

Because of his inclinations? Here, in The Party Activist’s Notebook (the hand-book for 1976, published in Moscow by the Political Literature publishing house), I can read the biographies of members and candidate members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU. These are the highest echelons of our country’s rulers — the General Staff. Twenty-two people. Almost all took part in the Second World War; the majority are considerably older than A. D. Sakharov. However, among these twenty-two I counted four persons of Sakharov’s generation who were not at the front and did not take an active part in the war. In 1941, one of them was 23 years old, another was 24, two were 27. A flourishing age, the age for army service. Of course all of them were either working or studying during the war years. Whatever one’s feelings towards each of them personally, any allegation that these people ‘because of their inclinations, were in no hurry to share the heroic lot of their contemporaries’ would rightly be regarded as a shameless slander.

However, in the case of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov shameless slander is, it seems, permissible? And not liable to punishment?

You are quick to accuse of mercenary motives a man who donated his entire Lenin Prize (100,000 roubles) to build an oncological centre in Moscow; a man who, as you know perfectly well, would have everything he desired, in whatever quantity, if he were as obedient and conformist as the 72 who condemned him.

Exploiting a scientist’s unassuming nature, you have the insolence to make jokes in the spirit of political pornography about his falling scientific productivity, which he himself has admitted. Firstly, however, in the conditions in which Sakharov lives, any continuation of scientific activity is an achievement. Secondly, even if Sakharov did nothing more in his life, he would still remain a great scientist. Thirdly, if you are so worried by insufficient scientific productivity on the part of certain scientists, why do you make no mention of those Academicians who have never achieved anything in science, either before or after becoming Academicians? For instance, Academician Mitin. Or Academician Ilichev. Or certain others, among them some of those who signed the ‘declaration of the 72’.

You accuse Academician Sakharov of chatting to an American visitor, the senator and millionaire Buckley. As far as I remember, Buckley came to the Soviet Union as one of the senators in a delegation invited by our government. If he is ‘a well-known reactionary even by American standards’, why was he invited at all? And why should Sakharov avoid talking to millionaires when our leaders themselves do not avoid such talks? Was Nixon not a well-known reactionary? Is President Ford an American communist? Is our government not afraid that, after its friendly talks with Nelson Rockefeller, it too will be admitted to the millionaires’ club?

It is completely impossible to read the statements made in the article about Academician Sakharov’s wife. This is how market-women used to abuse each other in the Odessa bazaar; I have heard that their moral and cultural level has since improved. Not having any taste for chronicles of fashionable life and feeling no curiosity about the private life of great people, I cannot understand what connection the glaucoma operation performed on Andrei Sakharov’s wife has with his political opinions or character. I repeat, I am not a lover of the genre of fashionable stories, but if Soviet newspapers are now to include this kind of story, which was formerly absent, I would read with great interest an account of the activities of Madame Mzhavanadze, whose commercial operations have a direct relevance to the political views and character of her husband. [note 1]

The anti-semitic ending of the article is fully in keeping with its general moral and literary level.

I end by repeating what I said at the beginning — I am ashamed. I am doubly ashamed, for I belong to the same Union of Soviet Journalists and the same Party as the editor of Trud.

Indignation at the article in Trud was expressed in a collective letter, ‘In Defence of Academician A. D. Sakharov’ (77 signatures).

On 3 November Lydia Chukovskaya came out in defence of Sakharov, Her article is also quoted in full:

Long live reason!

Since 1958 three Judases have been discovered in our country: Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1970) and Academician A. D. Sakharov (1975).

All three of them sold their country to the capitalists in return for a handsome bribe — the Nobel Prize, Their treacherous machinations were detected in good time by the Soviet press. I do not know what remuneration Soviet newspapermen get for slander or how they are paid — by the line or for the whole article. Arc they rewarded only in roubles or also by advancement at work, by being given apartments or medals? Without going into details, I should like to note and emphasise one happy fact: reason has been getting the upper hand; people have stopped believing the official press. It is not only the genuine intelligentsia who have for long not believed a single word uttered by the hired slanderers and who form their own opinion of the true greatness of their national heroes (the ‘Judases’); but the so-called ‘ordinary people’ too, on whose defencelessness (that is, ignorance) the newspapers count, they too sense the lies and reject them. Some days ago one person, a worker, sent me a copy of his letter to a paper (giving his full name and address). I here quote — verbatim — two extracts from it: ‘You’re liars, Sakharov does not hate the Russian people, he loves them.’ ‘Abuse and insults have never convinced anyone, and all the filth you are throwing at Academician Sakharov will not make him dirty: people will just stop respecting you. There’s a lot I’d like to say to you, but there’s no point, as this letter of mine won’t get further than the KGB, and they know better than anyone what’s happening in our country.’

I have reason to believe that there are dozens of similar documents lying today in Soviet newspaper offices. I am as pleased about this as I am about the Nobel Peace Prize, which Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov has truly deserved. It is rare to celebrate the triumph of justice. Although Sakharov’s future fate is cause for anxiety, nothing can deprive us of this festival of justice. Let us be worthy of it.


The prize-giving ceremony was due to take place in Oslo on 10 December.

Sakharov applied to the Moscow Visa Department for permission to travel to Oslo. At the same time he invited Y. F. Orlov, V. F. Turchin, S. A. Kovalyov and A. N. Tverdokhlebov to the prize-giving ceremony. Sakharov appealed to the Chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Court: “I ask you to grant S. A. Kovalyov the right to travel at my invitation, which he has, as he has not been condemned by a court.” Sakharov sent a similar letter to the Moscow procurator’s office about Andrei Tverdokhlebov. He received no answer to these letters.

On 12 November the head of the Moscow Visa Department informed Sakharov that he had been refused permission to travel abroad “on grounds of State security, as he has knowledge of extremely important state and military secrets” [1]. Sakharov stated that he considered the reason for the refusal to be insulting.

A collective statement “For the Press” (with 37 signatures) commented as follows:

“In officially refusing Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov the right to leave the country to attend the Nobel Prize-giving ceremony, the Soviet government has merely underlined its usual lack of respect for the country’s talent and, let us add, has also shown its fear of the steady process of change in society’s thinking and morale.”


On 10 December in Oslo Sakharov’s wife, Yelena Georgievna Bonner, received the prize awarded to her husband. The next day, at a related ceremony, she read out a speech prepared by Andrei Dmitrievich and sent via her.

At this time Sakharov was in Vilnius, vainly trying to gain entrance to the courtroom where Sergei Kovalyov was on trial [CCE 38.3].



[1] Lert was referring to V. Mzhavanadze, the Communist leader of Georgia from 1953 to 1972, who was removed for his involvement in corruption.