Mr. Speaker, today I would like to call to the attention of my colleagues the 80th anniversary of the birth of the late Dr. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, one of the truly great figures in the struggle for human rights in the 20th century. On May 21 of this year, Dr. Sakharov would have celebrated his 80th birthday. A brilliant physicist, Dr. Andrei Sakharov enjoyed the respect of his colleagues and the material privileges provided by Soviet officialdom for his work in helping to develop the Soviet atomic bomb. He could easily have continued to enjoy his elevated status in Soviet society, but his conscience would not permit it. He became deeply convinced that the arms race was pointless and a threat to mankind. When he protested privately to Soviet authorities, he was ignored. In 1968, Dr. Sakharov circulated his groundbreaking essay entitled, “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Co-Existence and Intellectual Freedom,” in which he drew the connection between human rights and international security. For this challenge to the system, he was barred from military research, and when he continued to protest, he was fired from his work.
In 1975, Dr. Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but Soviet authorities would not allow him to travel to Oslo to receive the award. In January 1980, without any legal procedure, let alone a trial, Dr. Sakharov was picked up on the streets of Moscow by KGB agents and spirited off to exile in the city of Gorky. At the same time, the Kremlin, under the leadership of former KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, launched a crackdown on Soviet dissidents. In 1984, Dr. Sakharov’s wife, Dr. Elena Bonner, was convicted of “defaming the Soviet political and social system” and sentenced to join him in exile. Even in these dark hours, Dr. Sakharov, continued to speak out against the war being carried out by Soviet forces in Afghanistan, to defend persecuted human rights activists in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and to address vital issues of disarmament and peace. On three occasions, Dr. Sakharov went on a hunger strike to protest the mistreatment of his friends and colleagues in the human rights movement. During his confinement, his notes and his manuscripts were stolen from him by KGB thugs. President Reagan declared his sixtieth birthday, May 21, 1980, “Andrei Sakharov Day.” In December 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev lifted Dr. Sakharov’s exile and “invited” him to return to Moscow. In 1989, Dr. Sakharov was elected to the Congress of People Deputies, an organization that had previously been the rubber stamp legislature for the Soviet Union. In the short time that he served, Dr. Sakharov joined a handful of other elected leaders to press for real reforms in the Soviet Union.
On December 14, 1989, the world was saddened to learn of this great man’s death. In its coverage of “the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century,” Time magazine noted that, “By the time of his death in 1989, this humble physicist had influenced the spread of democratic ideals throughout the communist world. His moral challenge to tyranny, his faith in the individual and the power of reason, his courage in the face of denunciation and, finally, house arrest–made him a hero to ordinary citizens everywhere.” Although Andrei Sakharov has passed on and the Soviet Union is no more, the issues that he and his colleagues confronted still challenge us today. “Small wars,” like the bloody conflict in Chechnya, have replaced the big Cold War. Human rights continue to be violated. Arms control and security issues are high on the agenda. Several years ago, Dr. Bonner bequeathed Dr. Sakharov’s papers to an American university bearing the name of one of our country’s greatest jurists–Justice Louis Brandeis. This is a priceless gift not only to Brandeis, but to our entire nation. A generation of young people who have grown up since the fall of the Soviet Union, will be able to study Dr. Sakharov’s writings on civic responsibility, non-violence, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other aspects of human rights and what we now call the human dimension. Mr. Speaker, on this, the eightieth anniversary of the birth of Andrei Sakharov, I urge Americans young and old to acquaint themselves with Dr. Sakharov’s struggle for peace and human dignity, and to support educational efforts such as the Sakharov archive at Brandeis to preserve the legacy of an intellectual and humanitarian giant of the 20th century.