Sakharov: A Pillar of Conscience

`TOMORROW there will be battle.'' These were the fitting last words to his family of Soviet physicist-dissident Andrei Sakharov, the soft-spoken Nobel Peace Prize winner who spent the last 30 years of his life fighting, often alone, against injustice and tyranny in his beloved homeland.

Dr. Sakharov's death leaves a gap in the opposition inside the Soviet Congress, and among human rights activists everywhere.

Other than Alexander Solzhenitsyn, no other Russian has been as effective in his critique of Soviet use and abuse of power. Probably no one was more a symbol in Russia of conscience and bravery. Sakharov's apartment was a haven for dissidents, intellectuals, refuseniks, and others fighting for social and political freedom. He brought peace to dissident infighting by a special quality of insight and compassion even his enemies admired.

Only hours before he died, Sakharov was plotting strategy to end the Communist Party's monopoly on power. Earlier, he had been shouted down in the Soviet Congress by Mikhail Gorbachev while speaking for democratic reforms in the Soviet Union.

Yet his censure by the very man who freed him from internal exile and persecution in Gorky three years ago won't stop the growing sentiment for change inside the Soviet Union. Sakharov early advocated a multiparty system in which ``all people have the right to decide their own fate with a free expression of will.'' In fact, much of the ``new thinking'' Gorbachev now professes is based on Sakharov's ideas: That politics as usual will not suffice in a nuclear age.

From his vantage as chief scientist for the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov saw Soviet propaganda up close. He was horrified that Soviet leaders would lie about deadly radioactivity from nuclear testing. He opposed a power-system that brushed aside moral questions as ``unpatriotic.'' People must think in order to become free, he argued in a 1968 paper that branded him for life (``Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom''). Systematic repression and control of information kept people passive and unthinking.

Sakharov's himself will be missed. But his example remains.

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