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Sakharov and Gorbachev

"Gorbachev Factor"

In his essay My Country and the World (1975), Sakharov gave a list of reforms that he felt were necessary “to bring our country out of a constant state of general crisis.” Several of the points of his program, such as the calls for glasnost, economic reform, partial denationalization of all types of economic and social activity, and others, foreshadowed many of the perestroika slogans.  

 
Sakharov at the First Congress of Peoples' Deputies: 1989

Indeed, Sakharov’s essays constitute a unique body of writings, which contain most of the ideas of the reforms that would later form the basis of perestroika. His thoughts on international relations, in particular, reflect almost all the main elements of Gorbachev’s new thinking, including the downplaying of ideology and class approach, the inadmissibility of nuclear war, a rejection of the disunity of nations in favor of interdependence and cooperation as the only salvation from the threat of nuclear catastrophe and other global problems, a return to all-human values, and continuous disarmament. Other important aspects of Sakharov’s public activities included his calls for the freedom of emigration and appeals against the use of special psychiatric hospitals by the KGB for the suppression of dissidents.

The authorities’ patience ran out when Sakharov spoke openly against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that began in December 1979. He was stripped of all his state awards and honors without trial and exiled from Moscow to Gorky, a city on the Volga closed to foreign journalists.

Sakharov was to remain outspoken and constant in his views, continuing to warn from exile against Soviet expansionism and the danger of thermonuclear war. It was the Soviet Union that began to change after the election in March 1985 of Gorbachev as general secretary. In December 1986, Gorbachev personally phoned Sakharov and invited him to return to Moscow.

Observers have often noted how close were some of Gorbachev’s utterances to the ideas of the former Soviet dissident. The Soviet leader had, no doubt, read Sakharov’s writings and absorbed many of his postulates. Later he came to acknowledge publicly the intellectual ascendancy of dissidents in formulating the guidelines for reform:

The awareness of the need for changes in society has been growing for a long time and assumed different forms. One of them was a phenomenon, which has received the name of dissident movement. And Andrei Sakharov has been its most outstanding representative. Reading his letters, which have remained unanswered, to the country’s former leaders, one can see how very precisely has he defined the causes and effects of our general crisis, how sensible were many of his recommendations.

Thus, perestroika marked the ending of the mutual isolation of dissidents, on the one hand, and “within-the-system” reformers, on the other, with the latter being increasingly swayed by the arguments of freethinking people like Sakharov, who had the courage and moral spirit to stand up for their convictions.

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