Boris Altshuler: Speech at the unveiling of the memorial to Andrei Sakharov in Nizhny Novgorod

posted 19 Dec 2014, 11:26 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Dec 2014, 13:06 ]
14 December 2014

Source: Ekho Moskvy

Boris Altshuler’s speech on the unveiling of the memorial to Andrei Sakharov, outside the Sakharov Museum in Nizhny Novgorod on 12th December 2014: 

I fully agree with what has just been said by Valery Pavlinovich Shantsev. Sakharov never regretted his participation in creating nuclear weapons, and always said that they played a vital role in preventing a third world war. But he clearly realized that an unlimited mutual strengthening of opposing nuclear power makes this "balance of terror" ever more precarious, and that, in these circumstances, even a simple accident might lead to the death of humankind. A passionate desire to prevent this threat was, in fact, the prime reason for his civil rights activism in the last twenty years of his life.

It’s hard to believe that a quarter of a century has passed since the death of Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov. A whole epoch. We knew each other for twenty years, in a different era. But now I shall talk about what is unchanging and will never lose relevance.

I should like to state officially that I have never in my life met anyone like Sakharov. What then were his special qualities? He had vast creative energy. His open mind was always ready at every moment to look at things afresh and in the most fundamental way.

I quote Andrei Sakharov: "The future is not merely unpredictable. According to the laws of quantum mechanics, it is not even defined. It is created by all of us through our infinitely complex interaction." Or, as Edward Teller, Sakharov’s colleague in the sphere of nuclear weaponry, wrote in his memoirs: "Sakharov was an optimist. A pessimist is always right, but does not find any joy in this. The optimist believes that the future is not predetermined, and works to improve it”

There was no place for the great sin of despair given this internal orientation of Sakharov. Elena G. Bonner in her wonderful essay "The Four Dates" recalls a scene from their lives at their home here in Gorky [the Soviet-era name of Nizhny Novgorod –ed]. It was Andrei Dmitrievich's job every morning to dispose of the daily rubbish down the chute. And every time, when passing by the police post at the door of their flat, he enthusiastically and loudly sang "The Lady of Warsaw,” with the words, "Hostile whirlwinds are blowing over us, Dark forces press upon us with malice, We joined with our enemies in a fateful struggle, An unknown fate awaits us." What kind of depression does that talk of!

And today, in the present moment, all of this is more than relevant. And it is perhaps worth recalling the main lesson of Sakharov: the rescue of a specific person, assistance to real individuals, is the central priority of his civic activism.

As human rights defenders we must not forget this. Today those of us who work in the NGO "Right of the Child" have as our main priority what we call "social advocacy" - working with cases of extreme poverty and substandard living conditions of families with children, as well as the problems of people with disabilities and families with children or adults with disabilities. We do this with a large community of NGOs, with the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Ombudsman. By the way, today I read in Rossiiskaya gazeta a staggering piece on Sakharov by Ella Pamfilova where she writes that Sakhaorv had “not thoughts, but thought-feelings”. That is something that is typical for people of genius.

Dear Mikhail Dmitrievich Prokhorov, Valery Pavlinovich Shantsev and Oleg Aleksandrovich Kondrashov, a sincere thank you for your initiative in creating this memorial to Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov and for supporting this initiative. Such an initiative obviously imposes a certain positive responsibility. And this is in itself gives all of us hope! Hope is the watchword of today's wonderful event. And, bearing in mind the general approach that characterized Sakharov with regards to the need to help specific people, I take this opportunity to convey to you, Valery Shantsev, a request for assistance for a large family in the town of Dzerzhinsk, who are in an absolutely desperate situation.

We have many such emergency calls, in fact, an avalanche. And we know how to solve the problems of poverty and housing in general. We know how to fill the market with cheap food and commodities of prime necessity that are produced in Russia. We know how to create quickly and inexpensively a supply of low cost rental housing to permanently banish from our society such a terrible thing as a homeless family with many children. At the heart of these proposals is a constructive partnership between socially responsible business and the government. And we shall be grateful for the opportunity to develop and test implementation of these proposals in the Nizhny Novgorod region.

And, coming back to Sakharov’s optimism concerning an undetermined future, I will conclude my speech with his words about our future, about youth, "In particular, I believe that young people, who in each generation begin to live as it were anew, are able to take a high moral stance. The question is not so much about a revival, but that the moral strength that is in each generation and is capable of coming to new life again and again must be allowed to develop."(from an interview with the newspaper Knizhnoe obozrenie, March, 1989) Thank you!

Boris Lvovich Altshuler
Chair of the board, "Right of the Child",
Member of the Moscow Helsinki group,
Member of the Public Council of the Ministry of Construction and Housing of Russia,
Member of the Working Group on the right of citizens to affordable housing of the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Ministry of Construction,
Senior researcher at the P.N.Lebedev Department of Theoretical Physics of the Academy of Sciences of Russia

Translated by Graham Jones