26 January 2023
Statement by the Public Commission for the Preservation of the Legacy of Academician Sakharov (Sakharov Centre)
On 24 January 2023, the Sakharov Centre received a letter from the Moscow city property department informing us of the termination of the lease on all our premises: the Centre’s main building, the Exhibition Hall and the apartment in the building on Zemlyanoi Val street.
Moscow city property department is merely carrying out a decision made by others. The eviction is based on amendments to the law on ‘foreign agents’ that came into force on 1 December last year. According to these amendments, ‘foreign agents’ should not receive any support from government. The Sakharov Centre leased all its premises from the city on a rent-free basis.
This legal clash once again proves that it is government policy to destroy independent organisations that defend the public interest.
The premises were handed over to the Centre in 1993 and 1996. This was a time when government understood that preserving Sakharov’s legacy is the duty of society with respect to one of the greatest humanists of the 20th century.
All these years we carefully used the space we had at our disposal. The apartment at 48b Zemlyanoi Val, where Andrei Sakharov lived, houses his archive. It contains not only Andrei Dmitrievich’s personal documents, but also, for example, thousands of letters from all over the Soviet Union with requests for help, words of support and gratitude. A unique museum exhibition dedicated to Sakharov’s life journey was created in these rooms. Superbly integrated into the space of the apartment, this exhibition creates a unique atmosphere, immersing the visitor in the history of the life of our great compatriot.
The architectural design of the museum in the Centre’s main building won the award for the Best Interior Design at the Moscow Architecture Competition in 1997. The Centre created the only historical exhibition in the country about the history of the USSR as a totalitarian regime. We have striven to promote a public reassessment of the tragic pages of our history, to bring about a realisation that political repression, deportations, and aggressive foreign policies is destructive for the country and must not be repeated, that the path to a better and worthy future cannot lie through arbitrariness, violence, and blood.
For a quarter of a century, the Centre has been a place that has brought together thousands of Russian citizens who care about the fate of the country and the values of freedom and human rights. The Centre held exhibitions, memorial evenings, conferences and public discussions. It was a meeting place and a place of remembrance. Václav Havel, Adam Michnik, Vladimir Bukovský, Anatol Szczaranski, Tomas Venclova and Tom Stoppard are among those who spoke at the Centre.
The Centre was the place where the country said farewell to Sergei Kovalev, Boris Nemtsov, Yury Ryzhov, Valeriya Novodvorskaya, Yury Afanasyev and others without whom the history of the defence of freedom in our country cannot be imagined.
For many years, the Sakharov Centre has been a unique public platform that has made it possible for a wide range of civic initiatives and advocates of different views and schools of thought to express their ideas and develop their projects – from classical liberals to the progressive left, human rights advocates, environmental activists, feminists and representatives of other social movements.
We have worked all these years, despite a deteriorating atmosphere of suppression of freedom, obscurantism, fear, provocations, pogroms and repressive laws.
Today, the history of the Centre, in the form it has taken for a quarter of a century, comes to an end. Such an island of freedom is no longer possible in today’s Russia, which has turned its back not just on Sakharov’s legacy, but on the entire national tradition of humanism, the pursuit of truth, and justice.
It is possible to be a free person in a country that is not free. But, alas, in such a country it is not possible for there to be a free museum and community centre.
A regime that has unlimited power, that corrupts society with myths based on fear, hatred and a false sense of superiority, a regime that manipulates genuine and imaginary national traumas and cynically exploits even the loftiest feelings that people have, inevitably takes the road to repression, arbitrary rule, destruction and bloodshed. Sakharov warned of this, and we can see it with our own eyes today.
But it is still too early to say goodbye. We have yet to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Elena Bonner. And we shall do this in the space that she created. An era is ending, but history is not ending. Following Sakharov, we believe in the triumph of what is best in humankind, the triumph of peace, humanism and progress.
In the near future, we have a great deal of work to do to preserve everything that can be saved that is connected with the work of the Centre. We shall do our best to preserve the memory of the Centre and its activities. And we shall need the help of all people who are not indifferent to this.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove