Ilya Yashin: I call myself an optimist who has no grounds whatsoever for being one

24 June 2024

Our disputes today chime resonantly with what Soviet dissidents were saying then

Source: Facebook


As I have already recounted, in the punishment cell I was given a biography of Academician A.D. Sakharov written by the historian Gennady Gorelik. It’s surprising, of course, for a book like that to turn up in a prison camp library. I read it with great pleasure. 

It’s very interesting, for instance, about the relationship between Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. About their mutual respect, their discussions, their shared and divergent views. Here is a characteristic excerpt: 

“…In 1973, to a journalist’s question as to what could be done, Sakharov replied: ‘In my opinion, almost nothing can be done. Nothing, because the (Soviet) system is very stable internally. The less free a system is, the better preserved it is internally.’”  

Solzhenitsyn recalls what Sakharov said at that time: 

“‘All our activities make sense only as an expression of a moral need,’” and he notes: “I had no substantive objection to offer. It’s just that my whole life, common sense notwithstanding, I have felt not that hopelessness, but, on the contrary, a certain foolish faith in victory.”

You have to agree that this discussion from half a century ago fits amazingly easily into our contemporary sociopolitical context. Our disputes today chime resonantly with what Soviet dissidents (after whom streets have now been named) were saying then. 

In this sense, I find Solzhenitsyn’s sentence about how he did not feel hopelessness and lived with “foolish faith in victory” very close to my heart. I often call myself an optimist who has no grounds whatsoever for being one.

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