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Sergei Lukashevsky: Sakharov a very awkward figure for today’s Russian regime [VOA]

posted 29 May 2017, 08:20 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 May 2017, 08:25 ]
20 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Russian Service of Voice of America]

Director of the Sakharov Centre Sergei Lukashevsky in conversation with Viktor Vladimirov of Voice of America

21 May is the birthday of thinker, humanist, and scientist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, who was born in 1924. On this day, the Sakharov Centre and the Sakharov Archive, within the context of Freedom Festival 2017, are presenting an exhibit in Moscow, “Homage to Sakharov: Placards, Posters, and Medals from the Sakharov Archive Collection.”  On the eve of the event, the Russian service of the Voice of America spoke with Sakharov Centre director and Moscow Helsinki Group member Sergei Lukashevsky about how the memory of Andrei Sakharov, the Nobel Prize winner and “father” of the hydrogen bomb, is being preserved in present-day Russia.

Please tell us about your festival in a little more detail.

Every year, on 21 May, we hold the Freedom Festival, a unique kind of “May Day,” where we present various aspects of our activities and honour Andrei Dmitrievich. This year, in the centre’s main building, we will hold a traditional discussion on social topics of relevance today. In particular, we will have Free Readings under the aegis of the Free Word association and the International PEN Club. The Moscow Human Rights School will present its own programme, and there will also be a separate children’s programme. Therefore, we welcome at our centre all those who wish to come.

What is being done at the official level to preserve the memory of this outstanding fellow countryman, an uncommon individual no matter what side you view him from?

It seems to me that since the early 2000s, once the vector of our country’s political development changed, the remembrance of Andrei Dmitrievich began to move out of the official, public mainstream. People speak about him less and less. We are trying to use all the powers and resources the Sakharov Center has to correct that situation. However . . . At the same time, in reality the story of his life may be even more relevant and understandable right now than it was ten years ago, for example.

Are young people today interested in Andrei Sakharov’s life, and what do they know about the ideals he professed?

Only recently we received a letter from Aleksei Navalny’s campaign headquarters in Rostov-on-Don. In principle, we do not engage in any particular cooperation with any political forces. But here the young people were asking whether they could show the film, Free Man Andrei Sakharov. Naturally, we gave our consent. Because the film’s director, Iosif Pasternak, had given us the right to handle noncommercial showings of the picture. We’re glad that this film will be screened and that there is interest in Sakharov and his legacy. On the whole, the situation is difficult, of course, there’s no arguing that.

So why is Sakharov’s name being forgotten? Do the authorities think the country doesn’t need idols like that today?

I think that it is being forgotten because, for today’s Russian regime, Sakharov is a very awkward figure. He can’t simply be defamed, as is happening with political activists of the 1990s or today’s opponents of the regime. Ultimately, he made a huge, utterly obvious, and irrevocable contribution to the development of Russian science, to the creation of Soviet nuclear weapons.

Accordingly, in speaking about him, especially in the context of the regime’s current enthusiasm for harping on our military history and military successes, this cannot be passed over in silence. On the other hand, Sakharov’s authority as a humanist and thinker is recognized on a world scale. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, they’d rather prefer not to say anything about Andrei Dmitrievich.

Against which of today’s Russian realities would Andrei Dmitrievich have risen up categorically?

I think that list would be extensive. Andrei Dmitrievich always logically defended a moral and ethical foundation in politics. Today, all Russian politics, at least in the dimension that is subject to the present regime’s control, is immoral.

This includes its politically motivated judicial verdicts. It also includes its violation of civil and social rights. After all, Sakharov always spoke out not only in defence of political prisoners but also about social and employment problems, especially after he emerged on the national stage.

Therefore, Andrei Dmitrievich definitely would not have failed to bring up the whole array of topical Russian political and social issues, from the Moscow renovation programme and the Platon system to the fundamental bases of a political arrangement in which free elections are impossible.

Translated by Marian Schwartz