21 May 2022
by Sergei Lukashevsky is director of the Sakharov Centre.
Today is May 21, Sakharov’s birthday. He would have been 100 last year. The second century of Sakharov began with Russia plunging Ukraine, itself, and, to an extent, all of Europe into an abyss of war, violence, and inhumanity.
You could say that Sakharov’s hopes for progress in Russia and human civilization came crashing down.
But that’s not actually true. All of Andrei Dmitrievich’s warnings were ignored. Sakhorov said that peace, progress, and human rights are inseparable. Suppression of freedom, as well as torture and war crimes in localized wars (in Chechnya, Georgia, and Syria), were precursors of aggression against Ukraine, Bucha, and Irpen.
Sakharov argued that the free world must rely on its own scientific potential and not become dependent upon resource autocracies. Today, the West is grievously unable to negotiate an oil embargo, and gas contracts are feeding Putin’s military budget.
Spreading false stories and hatred gives demagogues and opportunists power and breeds hatred, Sakharov insisted. Russian propaganda has been poisoning the minds of Russians and Russian-speaking people living in other countries for years. There’s no adequate opposition to this shameful war in Russian society, and you’ll find “understanding” for Putin in any country where former Soviet or Russian citizens live.
Russia could have become a country that “strives to preserve world peace, to preserve its surroundings… to harmonize economic, social, and political development,” as Sakharov wrote in his draft of a Constitution, but instead the country chose the role of aggressor, destroying entire cities in Ukraine.
There’s no future for the malicious celebration of aggressive resentment that drives Putin, the Russian government, and parts of Russian society. Nor is there any concept for a future beyond their imagined revenge for their fictitious humiliation. Russia will either turn back to the ideals of Sakharov again or will sink into the abyss of history. Quickly or slowly.
This might be the saddest birthday of Andrei Sakharov in the past 30 years.
And yet the resilience of millions of Ukrainians, the thousands of Russians who are resisting the spread of the spirit of war, the hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world who are helping Ukrainian refugees, the solidarity of the free world in opposing Russia’s aggressive policies — that’s a foundation for hope. Hope is a word that was no less important to Sakharov than “freedom,” “humanism,” and “human dignity.”
Let’s keep the hope alive on this day (and in those to come) Despite the growing darkness of today. Remembering Sakharov. Sharing his belief in freedom, “in the power of the human mind and spirit.”
Translated by Nina dePalma