In January 1966, Sakharov took part in the first public statement on an issue beyond the bounds of science.
On 14 January 1966 Signs an appeal by figures of science, literature, and art to the XXIII Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), warning against attempts to politically rehabilitate Stalin.
September 1966 Protests against the introduction into the USSR Criminal Code of new articles punishing "political crimes".
On 5 December 1966, takes part in a silent demonstration on Pushkin Square in Moscow in defense of political prisoners.
On 11 February 1967, he personally appeals to Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU with a request to release dissenters.
1967 Supports the public campaign to protect Lake Baikal from pollution by industrial wastes.
“My participation in the campaign for Baikal had no result, but it meant a lot to me personally, compelling me to come into close contact with the problem of protection of the environment”.
Andrei Sakharov. Memoirs
In 1968, Sakharov writes his first polemical article, “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Existence and Intellectual Freedom”
In “Thoughts”, Sakharov advances the thesis of convergence — the historical rapprochement of the socialist and capitalist systems, accompanied by democratization, demilitarization, social and scientific and technical progress — as the only alternative to the destruction of humanity.
He himself evaluated this as a decisive step, determining his subsequent life.
“Human society needs intellectual freedom — freedom to receive and disseminate information, freedom of unbiased and fearless discussion, and freedom from the pressure of authority and prejudices. Such a triple freedom of thought is the only guarantee against the infection of the people with mass myths, which in the hands of cunning hypocrites and demagogues easily turn into bloody dictatorship”.
“Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom”
Sakharov sent his article to Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, but did not receive an answer. The article wound up in the West. On July 6 and 13, 1968, “Thoughts”, in Dutch translation, is published in two issues of the newspaper Het Parool, published in Amsterdam, and then on July 22, in full in a translation into English in the American newspaper The New York Times.
The total print run abroad of publications of “Thoughts” in 1968–1969 was 18 million copies. According to that indicator, Sakharov's article occupied third place in the world after the Bible and Mao Zedong's Little Red Book.
After publication of “Thoughts” abroad, the KGB classified Sakharov's activity as “politically harmful”. He was removed from work on secret defense topics, and he left the Installation forever.
After returning to Moscow, Sakharov continues scientific work at FIAN (the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Academy of Sciences) and in subsequent years authors a number of fundamental works on the physics of the universe. He is elected foreign member of a number of academies of sciences abroad for his outstanding scientific achievements, including the National Academy of Sciences in the US, and the academies of science of France, Rome, and New York.
On 8 March 1969, his wife Klavdiya Alexeyevna Vikhireva dies.
In August 1969, Sakharov donates all his savings to charitable purposes. The total sum of the donation was 139,000 rubles. For those times, this was an enormous amount of money, the earnings of an ordinary person for more than 100 years.
Memorandum of Yury V. Andropov, chairman of the Committee on State Security (KGB) of the USSR, to the Central Committee of the CPSU. 15 September 1969.
“In 19 years of work at the Installation, not speaking hardly with anyone, even with relatives, and almost never leaving, we spent a lot less money than what I earned. [...] I decided to donate this money to the construction of a cancer hospital, and to the Installation's fund for children’s institutions and to the International Red Cross to aid victims of disasters and the hungry”.
Andrei Sakharov. Memoirs
Sakharov did not hide his views on principle. Using his authority as a major scientist, he repeatedly appealed directly to the leadership of the country with proposals about the democratization of the Soviet regime.
In April 1970, the KGB makes the decision to place clandestine surveillance on Sakharov and his social circle.
On 4 November 1970, Sakharov, together with Valery Chalidze and Andrei Tverdokhlebov create the Committee for Human Rights “to study the problem of guaranteeing and propagandizing human rights in the USSR”.
Valery Nikolayevich Chalidze (1938–2018), physicist, publicist, human rights advocate.
Andrei Nikolayevich Tverdokhlebov (1940–2011), physicist, human rights advocate.
In the fall of 1970, Sakharov becomes acquainted with Elena Georgievna Bonner.
Elena Bonner's parents were repressed in 1937; after spending the whole war as a nurse, she worked as a pediatrician. She had two adult children from her first marriage.
Elena Bonner was a famous person in the dissident community – the organizer of aid to political prisoners and their families. Their common beliefs brought Sakharov and Bonner together. Two years later, they were married.
Elena Georgievna Bonner (1923–2011) Soviet and Russian civic figure, human rights defender.
“Lusya gave me happiness, she made life more meaningful. But even so, her life turned out to be so difficult, tragic, but also, I hope, gaining new meaning. [...] As soon as Lusya became my wife, the pressure was concentrated particularly on her, and very soon, on our children and grandchildren”.
Andrei Sakharov. Memoirs
Sakharov repeatedly initiated the collection of signatures to collective documents, including appeals to the USSR Supreme Soviet to abolish the death penalty and release political prisoners.
Violating an unspoken prohibition, he begins to speak with foreign journalists; the Western press publishes his statements and interviews.
Andrei Sakharov during a press conference for foreign journalists. 1975.
Interview of Andrei Sakharov with a Dutch journalist, 18–20 August 1976
Press conference in the apartment of human rights defender Gen. Petro Grigorenko. Moscow, 9 November 1976.
Sakharov's activity irritates the authorities, and in August 1973, at the initiative of the KGB, the public persecution of him begins.
The press publishes a series of open letters from workers, artists, writers, composers, and scientists, including a letter signed by 40 academicians, condemning the civic activity of their colleague, Sakharov.
Nevertheless, Sakharov's political writing continues. In July 1975, in the essay, “On My Country and the World”, addressed to foreign readers, he very critically characterized the Soviet regime as based on lies and the suppression of freedom, while at the same time condemning the West for disunity and lack of desire to make economic sacrifices to counteract the threat of war and human rights violations. Sakharov proposes a widescale program of political, social, and economic reforms in the USSR; calls on socialist countries to have greater openness; and proposes solutions to the problems of gradual reduction of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
On 9 October 1975, Academician Andrei Sakharov is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
for “fearless personal commitment in upholding the fundamental principles of peace between men” and “uncompromising struggle against the abuse of power and all forms of violation of human dignity”.
Elena Bonner's speech on behalf of Sakharov at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony. Oslo. 10 December 1975.
The Soviet authorities refused permission to Sakharov to travel to Norway to take part in the awards ceremony. Instead of the laureate, on 10 December 1975, his wife Elena Bonner takes part. She reads the text of Sakharov's Nobel lecture.
“Peace, progress, human rights — these three goals are insolubly linked to one another: it is impossible to achieve one of these goals if the other two are ignored. <…> I am convinced that international trust, mutual understanding, disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, glasnost, and freedom to travel and choose the country of one's residence. I am likewise convinced that freedom of conscience, together with the other civil rights, are the basis for scientific and technological progress and a guarantee that its advances will not be used to harm humankind, thus providing the basis for economic and social progress, which in turn is a political guarantee for the possibility of an effective defense of social rights. Thus, I should like to defend the thesis of the original and definitive significance of civil and political rights in molding the destiny of humankind”.
Sakharov's Nobel Lecture
The lecture concluded with the listing of 126 names of Soviet political prisoners whose release Sakharov sought.
Zhores Medvedev, biologist, dissident, writer. When in 1970, he was forcibly interned in a psychiatric hospital, Sakharov was able to obtain his release.
At the train station seeing off to Germany Friedrich Ruppel, an activist in the movement for German repatriation who was supported by Sakharov. Moscow. 27 June 1974.
Sakharov in a group of people in Vilnius during the trial of his friend, human rights defender Sergei A. Kovalev. 9–12 December 1975.
Sakharov in a group of dissidents. (L) A leader of the human rights movement Petro Grigorenko, later a political prisoner, and his wife, Zinaida. In 1977 he was stripped of his Soviet citizenship. Moscow. 16 October 1977.
Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner with Natan (Anatoly) B. Sharansky, aide to Sakharov, activist in the movement for Jewish refuseniks. Political prisoner, arrested in 1977.
Mustafa Dzhemilev, human rights defender. Activist of the national movement of Crimean Tatars, political prisoner. Sakharov repeatedly spoke in his defense.
Anatoly Marchenko, human rights defender, writer, political prisoner. Friend of Sakharov. Died in prison in 1986.
Andrei Sakharov becomes for the world community a symbol of the struggle for human rights. But in the USSR, his intensive human rights activity provokes the hatred of the authorities.
Excerpt from the transcript of a session of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU on 15 October 1975
For his whole life, Sakharov and his family are under the surveillance of the KGB. Sakharov receives threats, but for a long time the authorities do not dare to take direct repressive measures against him.