27 January 2023
by Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya Gazeta, candidate in legal sciences, Moscow Helsinki Prize laureate
The Sakharov Centre is being evicted. Both from its premises on the Yauza and from the academician’s apartment-museum, which was once given to the Centre for indefinite use
Citizen Sakharov, take your things and go! And not for the first time, although this time it was not a supervised exile to the city of Gorky, as was the case in 1980, but rather a deportation: just go, it doesn’t matter where. They’ll have to rename Sakharov Prospekt in Moscow, since a suspicious looking crowd used to gather there, while that was still allowed. These days it’s forbidden anyway – and so what?
Next, curious children will start to ask: who is this Sakharkov guy? And how can you explain it to them, so as to avoid prosecution, if the inventor of the hydrogen bomb has been using “peace” as the main word in his vocabulary since the mid-sixties?
So, he’s gone – there is nothing left for him here anymore. You yourself, Andrei Dmitrievich, worked to introduce the idea of a rule-of-law state – so now go and comply with Federal Law No. 255 “On monitoring the activities of persons who are under foreign influence”, which passed silently into force on 1st December.
From a legal perspective, there is nothing mysterious in the authorities’ terminating the tenancies of the building that housed the Sakharov Centre or of Sakharov’s apartment across the road, which had been turned into a museum. From the authorities’ point of view, enforcing Federal Law No. 255 is a force majeure. Nothing mysterious, other than the fact that it once more sullies the name of the Constitutional Court, which suggested in 2014 that those who have been designated a “foreign agent” are still fully entitled to their rights, including their legal rights. Since then, the Court has not once changed its position, although it has not repeated it either – after all, it wouldn’t look good to lie in public.
But as well as the legal dimension, there is also a historical and a purely human dimension. The apartment was given to the Sakharov Centre at no charge by Mayor Yury Luzhkov in 1993 to be used as a museum for an unlimited period of time, while the main building – an outbuilding on the former estate of the Usachev-Naydenovs – was given rent-free tenancy in 1996, initially for 25 years and then made indefinite in honour of Andre Sakharov’s 100th birthday in 2021. A lovely villa on the banks of the Yauza river, right next to a park, so it won’t be empty for long.
As an aside, before the building was given to the Sakharov Centre there used to be a police station here. Maybe the former occupants will claim their rights. In the carriage house next door, which at serves as the Sakharov Centre’s main hall, you can get your tyres serviced.
The museum’s director, Sergei Lukashevsky, explains that, by and large, the centre was prepared for this kind of attack – it has already been attacked by thugs on more than one occasion (for instance, in 2003 in connection with its “Caution: religion!” exhibition). That said, the interpretation of a rent-free tenancy as a form of government assistance banned for foreign agents under law Federal Law No. 225, sadly, came as a surprise to him.
The question remains: what to do with the documents and artefacts.
Translated by Judith Fagelson