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Learning to walk upright

07.06.2006    source:
Lev Rubinstein
Personal reflections on Andrei Sakharov

Sakharov who? What do we need Sakharov for when imposing power, ersatz patriotism and demonstrative will to confirm, seen as the highest level of social maturity, have almost become an intellectual vogue? How can we speak about Sakharov when soon only a gas pipe will connect us with the world? Yes, I mean Sakharov, who, if you have forgotten, “brought down out powerful state”.

I don’t remember where I read that if Christ appeared in our times, he wouldn’t be crucified. And an ordinary mortal, albeit a great academician, wouldn’t even be noticed. However any form of  “what if”, tempting as it may be, is not fitting, and let us resist the temptation. He lived in his, and our, time. And it is this that should reconcile us with reality.

Where did he come from?  Where do any such people come from?  There were very few such people, but they did exist. A widespread notion suggests that a critically-inclined intelligentsia appeared due to a surplus of educated people. Those who found no place in the institutions wielding power began to criticize them, Yes, but what about Sakharov? Many might ask:: “What did he not have enough of?”

What he didn’t have, as I once understood, was this. At some political meeting which you couldn’t escape because they were held in working hours, a lecturer from the society “Znanie” addressed us, going on about the exceptional importance of the present moment, about the need to politically educate the entire Soviet people and the intelligentsia in particular.

Somebody was reading, another - knitting , all as always. Suddenly the lecturer said: “Do you know, why academician Sakharov became the figure he was? (There was an effective pause.) Everything is simple. This was Stalin’s own fault.” There you are! I started to listen attentively. “Yes, don’t be surprised! Stalin himself instructed that in the academic towns where the physicists were working on the bomb, political sessions were not held so as not to distract them from their work. And you see the result…”

Ah, now everything is clear! The secret, elite (as they now say) physicist, academician and hero, hope and support of the state simply lacked political education! He didn’t read Stalin’s “Short course of the History of the All-Russian Communist Party” in time, and there you are. So let’s thank comrade Stalin for Sakharov, if there is nothing more to thank him for.

We needed Sakharov. That crafty lecturer needed him too. The KGB also needed him: I think that a whole department was created “for Sakharov” with generals, aides and thousands of couriers.

The writer Leskov wrote that it would be easier to find a saint in Russia than an honest man. Sakharov’s biography had features of sainthood  such as, first of all, great sin and expiation. The hydrogen bomb he created was regarded by many as a great sin. However it’s unlikely that Sakharov thought in terms of sainthood, at least not regarding himself. He had the drive of a great scientist, a man of the exact sciences accustomed to solving problems and to finishing what’ he started.

Not everybody read his works, not everybody heard his speeches. For many people the very fact of his existence was a first lesson in walking upright, an antidote against giving in and cynicism.

One of most comfortless Moscow streets bears Sakharov’s name. I don’t know of any monuments. Yet, the most impressive monument for me is the unforgettable video record from the famous congress, where he stood on the rostrum, with abashed smile of Paganel, with twisted tie and crumpled collar of outmoded shirt... He tried  to say something: a quiet voice, not very good articulation… The audience stamped and roared dementedly, and he just stood and waited for them to listen. Like a raditional object of mockery and hatred, the permanent laughing stock.  The image has been shown hundreds of times. Yet I’d watch it again: it expresses so much despair and so much hope!

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