Sakharov's new ordeal

The world support for Andrei Sakharov in his latest ordeal ought to be a word to the wise in the Kremlin. Don't the Soviet rulers realize how small they make their big tough superpower look by refusing to let a young woman out of the country to go to her husband? The bureaucratic reasons for holding Sakharov's daughter-in-law are transparent. They could easily give way to a moment of political and ethical enlightenment on high.

As it is, the Moscow authorities appear to be using the situation to punish their leading dissident. By Soviet standards, they are devoting a great amount of newsprint to painting the hunger strike by Sakharov and his wife as a selfish effort on behalf of a family member. At the same time, they have reportedly begun to force-feed them in an evident attempt to prevent a martyrdom that would fasten a global glare on Soviet iniquities.

It is these iniquities, of course, that the hunger strike itself addressed. Anyone who knows Sakharov knows that he is the total opposite of selfish. To fast on behalf of his daughter-in-law is to fast for all those whose human rights are denied in his country. It was appropriate for President Reagan to lend his voice to releasing her to join her husband in the United States. But whether or not her case is closed the meaning of the fast will linger.

For all its power, Moscow is powerless when confronted by a fearless man. Suddenly it is the bully who seems scared. How demeaning for the Soviet Union to place itself in the position of having to seal up young women and force-feed heroes.

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