Andrey Sakharov died 10 years ago
In July 1968 I was in Moscow as a correspondent of ‘The New York Times.
I was quite alone. The political situation was strenuous: the invasion to Czechoslovakia was being prepared, there were other crises, the Vietnamese war.
There was another very important phenomenon — the Soviet democratic movement. I had various contacts, I received various materials, and among them there were fakes prepared in Lubianka, when I got a manuscript, an open letter and something of the kind. All of it had to be checked.
I received Sakharovs article from Karel van het Reve. We agreed to print it on the same day. It had to be translated, and it had to be checked — it could be another fake. I read it and, risking my career, I decided that it was genuine.
What had I to do with the manuscript? I could not transmit it by telephone, since it was too long, 12 thousand words. I could not take it on me — I could not risk with the only copy. I found a way at last and sent the manuscript.
It was printed, and it became dangerous for me to stay in Moscow, but this was not essential. Editors in New York could not believe that academician Sakharov could write such an article. More than once they also had been deceived by various articles, letters, etc. That is why they were rather skeptical. They had to be convinced. All the same they abbreviated the first article and put it on the front page, but at the bottom of it. So they protected themselves from the probability that it was a fake. They published the first article on the 1 July. This was an important day: Naser completed his negotiations with the Soviet leaders and decided to prepare the campaign in Sinai. The frightening term ‘counter revolution applied to Czechoslovakia appeared on this day in ‘Literaturnaya gazeta. My opinion was that it meant the invasion, and I informed my newspaper about this, but the editors did not believe me and put on the front page the materials concerning Naser and Sakharov.
American professors also doubted that it was a genuine article.
I had already translated the first half of this article and it was printed in New York without abbreviations on 22 July.
This time President Johnsons administration expected the Soviet aid in getting rid of the Vietnamese war. That is why everybody was nervous, and Kosygin delivered a very important speech where he said that the Soviet Union suggested the nuclear disarmament. These were very important words approved by Brezhnev. It was a very strenuous month, and the invasion to Czechoslovakia was prepared too.
I got convinced that Sakharovs article was a very important and genuine document. I checked who Sakharov was, I learned that he signed the protest against the plans to rehabilitate Stalin. He also criticized Khrushchevs plan of making pupils, who finish school, work one year, thus intercepting the education. I understood that such a person as Sakharov actually could right this article. I also learned that this article was the open letter to the Party Central Committee, but it made no difference.
(A question from the audience: Who gave you this article?)
In 1975 Andrey Amalrik said to me in New York that it was he who gave the command to give me the article. Pavel Litvinov also gave this command. There was some third person, Aleksandr (I forgot his surname) who also gave such a command.
Later I learned that somebody in Washington also had the text, but they did not intend to make it public. As to ‘The New York Times, they published it next morning, having decided that it could be a genuine document.
Elena Bonner made a small comment to this text:
I know this history from Andrey Amalrik, who more than once helped me in passing Sakharovs materials to the West.
Sakharov himself never dealt with distributing his writings. The only exception was his speeches later, when he had press conferences in his house. Here correspondents heard Sakharovs ideas from Sakharov himself.
Andrey Amalrik told me that he passed this article to you through van het Reve. Then Sakharov heard, I do not know from whom, the rumors that the editorial board of ‘The New York Times doubted that it was a genuine document.
Once it had happened with Anna Franks diary. Her father brought the diary to the USA, offered it to publishers and to newspapers in the abbreviated version, but everybody decided that it was a fake. And then the newspaper ‘Het Parool started to print the diary by portions. There is no need to tell what Anna Franks diary has become.
The same ‘Het Parool published this Sakharovs article on 6 July.