Andrei Sakharov

Soviet Nuclear Physicist, Human Rights Activist

1975 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
1980 Humanist of the Year
Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought

birthdate: May 21
Moscow, Russia

Brilliant young physicist, Andrei Sakharov, helped to develop the Soviet nuclear bomb, but after witnessing the devastating effects of nuclear tests, he became concerned about the weapon he had helped create. In the 1960s, he began to speak out against the dangers of the nuclear arms race and nuclear testing, and played a major role in convincing the Soviets to agree to the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. But in 1967 when he advised the Soviet government to work with the US to reduce the nuclear arms race, he was forbidden to discuss his ideas in public. The next year he wrote an essay entitled "Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom", expressing his ideas of halting the arms race and calling for greater freedoms in his country, and was banned from participating in all military-related research.

Sakharov continued his activism, co-founding the Committee on Human Rights in the USSR in 1970, and faced more pressure and condemnation from the Soviet government. In 1980, after openly protesting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, he was exiled and kept under strict police surveillance. In the mid-1980s his wife, who had also been exiled, was in desperate need of medical attention, but the Soviet government would not let her leave the country to have heart surgery. Sakharov went on several near-fatal hunger strikes over the next two years until she was finally allowed to receive the medical treatment she needed. In 1986, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who helped bring about more political and social freedoms in the Soviet Union, allowed the Sakharov's to return from exile. Andrei Sakharov helped to create the first legal independent political party and was elected to the new parliament in 1989.

During his years of struggle for human rights and calls for international cooperation despite the oppression by his government, Sakharov was an international source of inspiration. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, although he wasn't allowed to leave the country to receive it; was the inspiration for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought created by the European Parliament; and was honored as Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1980.

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