Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
May 21, 1921: Sakharov was born in a Moscow maternity hospital. His mother, the former Ekaterina Sofiano, descended from the officer class of the Czarist Army and was a practicing Christian. His father, Dmitri Sakharov, was a physicist, an author of several texts and other books that popularized science, and an amateur pianist. He was descended from a liberal family. Andrei had one younger brother, Georgy. Both parents embraced the Revolution and Sakharov recalled that Russian nationalism was viewed negatively within his home; "I do not recall a single derogatory remark about other nationalities..." (Memoirs: 24).
1920s and 1930s: Sakharov's early childhood was pleasant, made prosperous due to the income derived from his father's books. He was tutored in science by his father and was a superior student. His playmates were from many ethnic backgrounds and he became close with a Jewish neighbor boy, Grisha. The bubble of security later would burst. In 1935, an Uncle (Ivan) was arrested, exiled, rearrested and died of malnutrition in the Krasnoyarsk prison (in 1943). Also in the 1930s, an aunt's husband was arrested and shot; and a brother of his mother, Uncle Konstantin, died during interrogation by the secret police (1937). In 1941, a German bomb destroyed the building that formerly had been Sakharov's boyhood home.
1942: Sakharov was graduated from Moscow University. After working first as an engineer, in 1945 he joined a secret research team headed by physicist Igor Tamm. Their task concerned military applications of nuclear energy.
1949: The first Soviet atomic bomb successfully was exploded. Sakharov focused on a further project: the development of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. After his ideas proved successful (1953), Sakharov was elected to the Soviet Academy of Sciences in 1953, winning additional honors including the Order of Socialist Labor, the nation's highest award for civilians. Twice later he was conferred this award for further research in the Soviet nuclear weapons program.
1957: Sakharov first urged that atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons be stopped, due to public health dangers from radioactivity. In 1962, an urgent further plea in this vein by him, made directly to Communist leader Nikita Khrushchev, failed.
Human Rights Activist
1966: Human rights activists who insisted that Soviet laws be followed to the letter were joined in protests outside the trial of Yuri Daniel by Sakharov.
1968: Sakharov penned a long letter published in the West. It called for an end to the arms race, and cooperation between communist and democratic governments. Subsequently, he lost his research position.
1970: In a letter to the Central Committee of the CPSU, Sakharov warned that the USSR rapidly would soon fall behind in the second industrial revolution if its society continued to develop without basic freedoms being respected. He was ignored.
1972: Sakharov embarked on a hunger strike during US President Nixon's visit to Moscow so to call attention to the dangers inherent in detente (i.e., a U.S. policy of relaxation of East-West tensions) when the totalitarian essence of the USSR had not been eliminated.
1973: Sakharov's denunciations of totalitarian controls were broadcast back to the USSR over foreign radio.
1975: The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Sakharov; wife Yelena Bonner was permitted to receive the prize in Norway, but Sakharov was denied the right to travel abroad with her.
1975-80: Many of the associates Sakharov and Bonner worked with in the human rights movement were harassed, arrested, and exiled.
Internal Exile and Vindication
January 1980-December 1986: Sakharov was arrested and banished to the closed city of Gorky where he was not permitted access to reporters or other human rights activists (other than Bonner).
December 23, 1986: Sakharov returned to Moscow after Gorbachev personally ended his punishment by exile.
1989: Sakharov was elected delegate to the first semi-democratically elected parliament in the USSR, the Congress of the Peoples' Deputies. His speeches became rallying points for the democratic forces there. He refused to knuckle-under to Gorbachev or to the Communist forces still holding 3/4ths of the seats.
December 1989: After writing a draft Constitution for a new democratic state to replace the USSR, Sakharov died.
for further reading, see: Andrei Sakharov, My Country and the World (NY: Vintage, 1975).
Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs (NY: Knopf, 1990).
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