Sakharov's Legacy

A citizen of the world, the greatest Russian scientist of the century, he is still a beacon to his countrymen

A YEAR after his death, the memory of Andrei D. Sakharov shines for his countrymen and all humanity. His memoirs are being published in Moscow only months after appearing in New York. As their political system disintegrates before their eyes, many Soviet citizens seek a moral and intellectual compass. Fortunately, some of Sahkarov's ideas have become living parts of the Soviet political process. His legacy includes a liberal interpretation of what could otherwise be empty slogans - glasnost, perestroika, democratization. Glasnost, he insisted, is not just ``publicity'' for approved ideas. It means honesty and candor in all spheres.

The weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta has published Sakharov's notes for a speech drafted just before his death. They crystallize what made him great: In the midst of an upsurge in violent crime throughout the USSR, Sakharov worried about the rights of the accused. He digested reports by experts in comparative law, and suggested improvements in Soviet practice, with its presumption of guilt. In this we see his compassion for individuals, his scientific curiosity, his attention to detail.

Sakharov, as his memoirs make clear, long worried that nuclear weapons tests would add to cancer rates worldwide, hitting with fullest force unprotected persons close to test sites. On the last day of his life, Sakharov gave an interview to a film crew from Kazakhstan, home to the ``polygon,'' the site of most Soviet tests. He wanted to take part in an international conference against nuclear testing scheduled for Alma-Ata in 1990. Attending that meeting last May, I saw many Kazakhs take heart as they learned how this giant of science had worked for their cause.

Sakharov stood at the peak of Russian science. He was the country's leading moral force, and he shaped Soviet politics as much or more than any professional politician. No other Russian - perhaps no one anywhere - combined excellence and honor in so many domains. The keys to Sakharov's greatness included a powerful intellect, a profound sense of responsibility to others, and a belief that Russia was ``reformable.''

Like Edward Teller, Sakharov helped father his country's hydrogen bomb. He believed it dangerous for one country to monopolize such weapons. Like Teller, he campaigned for openness in science.

Like J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of America's atomic bomb, Sakharov championed arms control. The causes favored by each man cost him his security clearance. Oppenheimer retreated to Princeton, but Sakharov was gradually pushed further and further from privilege until 1980, when he was banished to Gorky, kept under surveillance, and sometimes force-fed.

Other Russian scientific greats have championed morality and free thinking - psychologist Ivan Pavlov, geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, physicists Peter Kapitsa and Igor Tamm. Pavlov, as recent documentation reveals, often wrote to V.M. Molotov to protest arrests of other scientists. Vernadsky tried to keep Communist philosophers from membership in the Academy of Science. But no other Soviet scientist approached Sakharov's moral and political impact.

Sakharov did not shrink from identifying his government's sins. He could write scathingly and to the quick. He worked fast and usually without staff support, sometimes overstating a point. But in a society inured to establishment views, his arrows pierced lethargy and led to broader awareness of issues.

NIKITA KHRUSHCHEV recalled that Sakharov once asked him to halt nuclear testing. Khrushchev refused, but was impressed by Sakharov's character. Sakharov did persuade him, however, to modify educational reforms to permit schools for gifted students.

In 1968 Sakharov's memorandum ``Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom'' envisaged ``convergence'' of capitalism and socialism and called for Soviet-US cooperation to cope quickly with global problems. Gradually he became disenchanted with the Soviet system and called for democratization. In 1970 he called for a multi-candidate elections - a proposal finally implemented in 1989. Concerned for global security, he warned the United States that it should match Russia's heavy missiles, but he later opposed Washington's Strategic Defense Initiative.

Other Soviet citizens tried to resist evil and do good. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's voice was heard round the world. But Sakharov not only wrote about civil rights. His Moscow flat became the headquarters for the defense of civil rights throughout the USSR. Sakharov and his second wife, Yelena Bonner (who fiercely continues their struggle), ignored no human rights issue that came their way - from Tatars, Germans, Jews, or other Russians.

Sakharov wasn't easy to work with. Americans who worked with him on a joint project to promote human survival found him stubborn and uncompromising.

In the late 1960s Sakharov became the first major Soviet figure to underscore the dangers and opportunities of global interdependence. A decade later, Soviet scholars claimed to develop a new branch of knowledge, ``globalistics,'' to deal with ``global problems.'' Gorbachev has made global interdependence an axiom of Soviet policy.

Other scientists, such as Galileo, have been hounded by reactionary authorities. Seldom has a scientist of stature been exiled and then reemerged as a political force.

Russia has known other reformers of intellectual breadth: Peter, Catherine, Lenin. None approached Sakharov's scientific achievement; none had his heart and soul. Their successes rested on power without compassion. Lenin created a monster - the Soviet system; Sakharov initiated its humane transformation.

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