On December 10, 1975, the inventor of the hydrogen bomb and one of the most courageous fighters for political freedom and human rights in the Soviet Union, Andrey Sakharov, won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sakharov’s worldwide admiration came mainly after his published writings that were meant to overthrow his earlier achievement of inventing the hydrogen bomb. In 1968, Sakharov wrote a manifesto titled “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” which earned him the most prestigious Nobel Prize. While condemning the nuclear arms race, the document called for a partnership between Russia and the United States.
Sakharov put forward a thesis of the convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems and demanded the joint effort of the Soviet Union and the US to combat the global threat of famine, overpopulation, and environmental pollution. Sakharov also advocated the abolition of censorship, political trials, and psychiatric wards for political dissidents. The manifesto was secretly circulated in the Soviet Union, but was smuggled to the West and published in the New York Times in 1968 under the title “Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom”. The famous US journalist Harrison Salisbury hailed Sakharov’s work as a “high point of the liberalization movement in the Communist world.”
The Nobel Committee praised Sakharov for his “fearless personal commitment in upholding the fundamental principles for peace.”
Sakharov was unable to attend the award ceremony in Norway and his wife Elena Bonner, who was in Italy at the time, traveled to Oslo to represent her husband. Bonner read his powerful acceptance speech in which he again called for “true détente and genuine disarmament”; for “a general political amnesty in the whole world”; and the “liberation of all prisoners of conscience everywhere.”
Despite open opposition to the Soviet regime and the nuclear arms race, the Soviet authorities never really came hard on Sakharov, arresting him only when he roundly condemned the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was stripped of all his awards and distinctions and exiled to the military-industrial city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) where he was placed under house arrest. His only connection with the outer world was his wife Elena, who made constant roundtrips to Moscow before she was accused of anti-Soviet slander and also banished to Gorky. Taken away from family and friends, they continued to be persecuted by the KGB. Sakharov resorted to a series of hunger strikes to demand medical treatment for Bonner, who was finally given permission for her trip to the US where she received heart surgery in 1985.
Sakharov and Bonner returned to Moscow in 1986, when General Secretary of the Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev had them released. On his return, Sakharov resumed his scientific work and continued to fight for human rights and for a nuclear-free world, until his death in 1989.