Speech Before the Congress of the United States, (21 May 1986) Washington, D.C.

Speech Text

[1] Members of Congress!

[2] Ladies and Gentlemen!

[3] On behalf of my husband I thank everyone present in this hall as well as all those who are celebrating his 65th birthday, wherever they may be.

[4] I thank President Reagan for his warm letter which I received yesterday. I take it as an expression of concern for my husband, and I hope his concern will not be in vain.

[5] In celebrating Andrei Sakharov’s birthday, we honor him, and our thoughts turn to the country where he was born, lives and works. It is a signal honor for any country to number among its citizens such a man as Andrei Sakharov.

[6] I find myself today in a difficult situation. I am speaking both as a wife and as a contemporary of Andrei Sakharov.

[7] As a wife, I fear for his life and fate. In Gorky, anything can happen, and the world will never learn the truth about us. You all know that during the last years our letters and telegrams have been altered, and misleading films about our life have been sent to the West. After my return to Gorky, we are likely to be cut off from any communication with the outside world. The West will receive nothing but disinformation.

[8] Andrei Sakharov is confined in Gorky in violation of Soviet laws. As long as he does not enjoy the same rights as other Soviet citizens, his life is in danger.

[9] As his wife, I could speak of his state of health, of his isolation, and of the deprivation of normal scientific and personal contacts. I could tell you that for six years he has not been allowed to spend a single minute outside the limits of Gorky. I could tell you that living under the lens of a concealed camera is oppressive and psychologically dangerous. I could tell you how desperately afraid I am of returning, of living again in that atmosphere of falsehood where everyone lies—the press, officials, and scientists. If it were not for Andrei Dmitrievich, I would not return there, I would not even give it a second thought. But I do not want to speak of all that. There are enough people who can understand my feelings.

[10] Today, I would like to speak simply as a contemporary of Andrei Sakharov.

[11] Every age has its heroes. In fairy tales, people are simply born to be heroes, but in real life, it requires many qualities and the right circumstances for a person to live his destiny. To begin with, it depends on the social system in which he lives and the people who surround him.

[12] Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov has become the spiritual leader of our time as a consequence of the interaction of external events and his individual qualities, together with the nature of his upbringing and the environment which shaped him.

[13] We live in the aftermath of World War II. We must not underestimate the importance of that fact. We live after the Holocaust, the Gulag, Katyn, Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

[14] Since World War II, people have been trying to create social institutions capable of preventing a repetition of those tragedies. These have included the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and the Helsinki Final Act. Sakharov stands for these institutions and his philosophy is closely linked to them.

[15] The times called for someone like Sakharov to appear. We are all witnesses of an astounding spurt of progress for our civilization. Science determines the quality of our life in the second half of the twentieth century. Sakharov’s scientific brilliance, his profound understanding of the benefits and hazards of progress, place him on the cutting edge. His personal qualities include absolute honesty, courage so natural that it tends to be overlooked, and a morality founded on his innate knowledge of good and evil. All these together have made him Andrei Sakharov, the Andrei Sakharov who is known and respected throughout the world.

[16] His basic premise is the indivisibility of Peace, Progress and Human Rights; his basic ideology is the defense of human rights as the defense of life on Earth. Such an ideology can unite people of East and West, of different creeds, of different races. But it requires us to recognize our responsibility before history, to apply equal standards in judging the events and people of different social systems, and to refrain from bending the truth for personal advantage. We must be serious in our approach.

[17] Let me give you a few examples.

[18] It is great that the International Committee of the Red Cross has succeeded in gaining access for its delegates to prisons in Chile, but they must be admitted to the prisons of the Soviet Union, Cuba and China as well. Western journalists, aided by world public opinion, are able to visit Nelson Mandela, but why are they not allowed to visit prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union?

[19] The catastrophe in Chernobyl must not become a pretext to halt the development of nuclear power in the West. The proper guarantees for safeguarding the environment are an open society and the right of citizens to control their government’s actions, not efforts to hinder progress. Chernobyl showed that the Earth is a small planet, that our successes and failures are shared by all of us, and that we have a common stake in the future. That is the cornerstone of Andrei Sakharov’s philosophy.

[20] And finally, let me mention a subject close to the theme of today’s celebration. Is it responsible for scientists from East and West to conduct nongovernmental talks on disarmament and on nuclear testing while ignoring the only voice on the Eastern side that is both competent and independent, the voice of Andrei Sakharov?

[21] I thank the Congress of the United States and the American people for the opportunity to speak here and to say that by honoring Andrei Sakharov on his 65th birthday, we affirm once again our determination to defend life on Earth and our freedom.

May 14, 1986

Dear Mrs. Bonner:

Americans and others dedicated to the cause of human dignity will be celebrating May 21 as Andrei Sakharov Day. As you prepare to return to your homeland, I want you to know how much we respect and admire Academician Sakharov’s—and your own—courage and dedication. Dr. Sakharov’s scientific achievements, his contributions to peace, and efforts on behalf of democratic human rights are an inspiration to all mankind. Although Dr. Sakharov remains isolated in Gorky, the world has not forgotten him. It can never do so.

I hope you will take back to Dr. Sakharov reassurance that we will continue to do everything possible to secure his freedom, and to advance the principles for which he has sacrificed so much.

Ronald Reagan