On the death of Mikhail Gorbachev – Statement by the initiators of the Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights
Lev Ponomarev
Boris Altshuler
Svetlana Astrakhantseva
Valery Borshchev

1 September 2022

Statement by the initiators of the Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights

Gorbachev, Sakharov and our difficult present time

Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died on 30 August 2022. We express our sincere condolences to his loved ones. We wish to emphasize the very important historical nature of this sad event. With the name of M.S. Gorbachev are linked events that have determined the history of our country and the whole world. A key role in the events of that era also belongs to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov.

“I believe that Gorbachev is the only real leader of perestroika that we can imagine. Therefore, replacing Gorbachev would be a disaster.”

Andrei Sakharov, September 1989

“Sakharov took a moral position. That is how I remember him”.

Mikhail Gorbachev, May 2011

Perestroika embodied unprecedented hopes for the building of a stable democratic system of government in our country and it also proved to be the collapse of those hopes, the consequences of which echo tragically today. Let’s try to briefly trace the Sakharov-Gorbachev tandem in those dramatic years – while projecting the relevance of this experience on to our own days.

Two miracles of perestroika are associated with the names of Gorbachev and Sakharov: the release in 1987 of Soviet political prisoners and the signing in December 1987 by the USSR and the USA of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty on the elimination of medium and short-range nuclear missiles with a mobile launch. Thus for the first time after many decades of a insane nuclear race, mankind took a step back from the edge of the thermonuclear abyss. Later there followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall, democratic revolutions in the countries of Eastern Europe and the long-awaited end of the monstrously cruel Afghan war. All these events deservedly make M.S. Gorbachev a figure of historical scale.

But at the same time, starting from 1988, in terms of internal political reforms in the USSR, there began what was then called ‘putting the brakes on perestroika,’ something which ended with the collapse of the USSR in December 1991. Sakharov, in many of his speeches in 1988 and 1989. (he died in December 1989) passionately warned Gorbachev about the danger of such a slowdown and its inevitable catastrophic consequences. Monopoly in the realm of political power, monopoly in the economy and a monopoly by law enforcement agencies. Sakharov insisted on the urgent ‘treatment’ of these three ‘diseases’ that were deadly for the country. Why didn’t Gorbachev heed these warnings? We can immediately reject the notion that this was due to his personal indecision or lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation. He wasn’t that kind of person.

‘Politics is the art of the possible.’ Gorbachev was surrounded by the conservative Soviet bureaucracy, whose opposition made the necessary reforms impossible and drove the ‘diseases’ mentioned above inside, and ultimately brought about the end of the USSR. Today, the same thing is happening in Russia. Totalitarian-monopolistic tendencies are making the system of government dangerously unstable and threaten the very existence of the Russian Federation. But ‘it is not yet evening,’ as the saying goes. We are confident Russia can become a democratic, stable, economically prosperous state, living in peace with its neighbours. And we call on all responsible and reasonable elements in our country, on all citizens of our country, to support the principles and goals of the Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights Movement (see Appendix).

Initiators of the Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights:

Lev Ponomarev, human rights activist
Boris Altshuler, physicist and human rights activist
Svetlana Astrakhantseva, human rights activist
Valery Borshchev, human rights activist



Principles and goals of the Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights

We state with deep concern that today in our country, in Russia, the most dangerous phenomena of the recent Soviet past are being restored: the unconstitutional suppression of any criticism of the actions of the authorities, combined with the stereotype of a ‘hostile environment’ and a sharp confrontation with the ‘collective West,’ which takes such extreme forms as threats to use nuclear weapons.

That is why Sakharov’s ideas about nuclear war as the suicide of mankind, about the inextricable link between international security and the observance of human rights, are once again relevant today. Our Andrei Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human rights is an attempt to return to the ideas of Sakharov, to his ideas of a world order without totalitarianism and without military-political polarization.

We recommend that everyone ready to develop Sakharov’s ideas and use them as a basis in their social and political activities, first of all, read Sakharov’s Nobel lecture ‘Peace, Progress, Human Rights,’ as well as his other works devoted to these issues.
Here we present the main theses and our interpretation of the application of Sakharov’s ideas to the contemporary context.

Peace, progress, human rights – these three goals are inextricably linked, one cannot be achieved without neglecting the others. This is the main idea that I want to reflect in this lecture.

Andrei Sakharov, Nobel Lecture, 1975

Our country faces the historic challenge of building a society that combines economic efficiency and social justice. Now we don’t have either of those. The fate of our people depends on this, but at the same time our ceasing to pose a threat to
the whole world depends on this.

Andrei Sakharov, Lyons Lecture, ‘Science and Freedom,’ 27 September 1989)

Sakharov came up with the ideas of reforming the political structure and the security system not only for the Soviet Union, but also for the world, based on:

  • the absolute value of human life and inalienable human rights;
  • solution of economic and social problems in an evolutionary way, not in a violent revolutionary way;
  • the decisive influence on the fate of mankind of scientific and technological progress;
  • building interaction between countries in order to preserve humanity in the face of the discovery of atomic energy and other threats associated with the inevitable scientific and technological progress.

Unfortunately, the world is not developing in accordance with Andrei Sakharov’s principles.

War and Peace

Thermonuclear war cannot be regarded as a continuation of politics by military means (according to the Clausewitz formula), but is a means of global suicide… Every rational being, once on the edge of the abyss, first tries to move away from this edge, and only then thinks about satisfying all other needs. For humanity to move away from the edge of the abyss means to overcome disunity.

Andrei Sakharov, ‘Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom,’

For the first time since Soviet times, these words sound relevant. This call from Sakharov contributed to the beginning of a dialogue between the opposing sides of the West and the Soviet Union. Gradually, a system of checks and balances was
developed between the two blocs. Policies of nuclear disarmament and mutual oversight of nuclear weapons began.

At the present moment, mankind has once again found itself on the edge of a thermonuclear abyss, since the system of checks and balances has been destroyed; its restoration and strengthening is a paramount task.

Any armed confrontation and violence in general is an attack on the first and foremost human right – the Right to Life. Humankind is the highest value. This was bequeathed to us by Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. This is especially relevant today, in the 21st century, when the power of any country is determined solely by its intellectual and technological, that is, human, potential and not by its geography, not by the sum of square kilometers under its jurisdiction.

The Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights is called upon to achieve a peaceful resolution of conflicts based on political compromises, avoiding armed confrontation and also to seek the resumption of negotiations on the control and limitation of nuclear weapons, taking into account the experience of recent decades.

Democracy and Human Rights. Stability of State Governance

As in the sphere of international security, stability in a system of public administration is ensured by a set of ‘checks and balances,’ the most important of which are the democratic principle of separation of three mutually balancing branches of power (executive, legislative and judicial), political competition and the right to public criticism of various authorities and officials. Persecution for criticism ensures impunity for corrupt officials. Extreme instability, the loss of a sense of reality when making the most important state decisions is created by the absolute personalization of power.

According to the current constitution, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR (in the Russian Federation – the President) has absolute, practically unlimited personal power. The concentration of such power in the hands of one person is extremely dangerous, even if this person is the initiator of perestroika. In particular, backstage pressure is possible. And what if someday it will be someone else?

Andrei Sakharov, from a speech at the First Congress of People’s Deputies, 9 June 1989

The principles of the rule of law, according to A.D. Sakharov include:

Freedom of speech and information … I call for a review of the laws on rallies and demonstrations, on the use of internal troops.

from a speech at the First Congress of People’s Deputies, June 9, 1989

The possibility of judicial challenge by citizens and civic organizations of the actions and decisions of all authorities and officials, the democratization of judicial and investigative procedures.

from the same speech.

In reality, in our life, the suspect or the accused finds themselves in extremely an difficult situation facing pressure from the investigative authorities. Everyone remembers numerous cases of self-incrimination, someone taking the blame because of torture, beatings, blackmail and threats. Everyone remembers the death sentences handed down to innocent people not only in the republics, but also in Moscow.

From the draft speech at the Second Congress of People’s Deputies prepared on the day of his death, 14 December 1989

Law enforcement and judicial systems are the supporting structures of any state. The arbitrariness, inefficiency and internal decay of these systems is a threat to a country’s national security.

Restoration of competitive political processes, restoration of competition between the investigative authorities and the judiciary when considering specific cases, etc. are the tasks of the Movement for Peace, Progress and Human rights.

In general, the restoration of the mutual independence of the three branches of government, democratic elections, effective local self-government, ensuring the observance of freedoms and human rights, relying on evolutionary and peaceful methods, is the most important task at the present stage of building Russian statehood.

In short:

  • strict observance of freedom of thought and speech;
  • ensuring the real independence of the Russian judicial system;
  • stable system of political pluralism;
  • making use of international experience in the uncovering and ending of abuses by law enforcement agencies.

Overcoming social injustice and mass poverty. An efficient economy.

Ensuring civil and political rights is a necessary prerequisite for resolving social and economic problems.

Millions of people around the world strive to end poverty, hate oppression, dogmatism and demagoguery (and their extreme expression as racism, fascism, Stalinism and Maoism), believe in progress based on all the positive experience accumulated by humankind, used in conditions of social justice and intellectual freedom.

‘Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual
Freedom,’ 1968

Without the development of market relations and elements of competition, the emergence of dangerous disproportions, inflation and other negative phenomena is inevitable … Unbundling large enterprises in order to stimulate competition and prevent monopoly pricing.

From his election programme, January 1989

In his first programmatic article on social topics (‘Reflections…’, 1968, cited above), A.D. Sakharov came up with the idea of ​​convergence (rapprochement) of the socialist and capitalist systems, ‘giving this term a socialist and democratic meaning,’ that is, anticipating a social and state structure that combines the positive features of capitalism (an efficient economy based on fair competition and a stable democratic form of social order , which includes, among other things, state power and local self-government answerable to the population, efficient anti- corruption mechanisms) and socialism (social justice for all, combined with powerful anti-crisis and anti-monopoly measures of state regulation of the economy).

These ideas of Sakharov are not just unfounded dreams. Socially oriented capitalism is being implemented in practice to some degree or another in many countries, most consistently in Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and Finland, historically and geographically close to us. Unfortunately, Russia was not moving towards capitalism according to Sakharov. In the new Russia, over the course of the 30 years of its existence, something quite the opposite has happened – ‘convergence in reverse.’ There is a combination of the vicious generic features of wild capitalism (the poverty of millions with the most cynical enrichment of narrow oligarchic groups) and ‘Stalinist’ socialism (one-party dictatorship with suppression of opposition, of any expression of criticism and, in general, of the freedoms and human rights declared in the Constitution of the Russian Federation).

The task of the Sakharov Movement for Peace, Progress and Human Rights is to ensure a decent life (Article 7 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation) for every Russian citizen on the basis of ‘Sakharov-style convergence,’ including:

  • social justice, a significant increase in pensions and benefits through the introduction of a progressive tax on excess income (‘Removal of all restrictions on personal income. The only regulator should be a progressive income tax‘ – A.D. Sakharov, from the election program, January 1989);
  • overcoming economic monopoly, drawing on international experience to ensure effective state protection of the free market and fair competition, creating conditions that do not allow artificial inflation of the prices of essential goods and services: food, medicine, housing, housing and communal services, etc.;
  • overcoming the economic depression in which most of Russia regions find themsevlves by means of forming effective, budget-supported and responsible local self-government, similar to the zemstvos introduced by Emperor Alexander II or the local self-government of modern Finland that historically developed from the zemstvos.

Sakharov’s ethical precepts

The sense of my article [the 1968 article ‘Reflections’ cited above] is to call for the rejection of extremes, intransigence and intolerance, which are too often inherent in revolutionary movements and extreme conservatism, the desire for compromise, the combination of progress with reasonable conservatism and caution. Evolution, not revolution, as the best ‘locomotive of history’.

Andrei Sakharov

Ultimately, the moral choice is also the most pragmatic one.

Andrei Sakharov

I believe that moral forces are always preserved in people. In particular, I believe that young people, who in each generation begin to live as if anew, are capable of taking a high moral position. It is not so much about revival, as about the need to develop the moral force that exists in each generation and is capable of growing again and again.

Andrei Sakharov

English translation by the authors

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