On the evening of 14 December 1989, Sakharov died prematurely in his apartment.
Exactly three months later, amendments were made to Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR which put an end to the monopoly of the CPSU on power. The New Constitution was passed in 1993, already in another country — Russia.
Sakharov regards the changes in the political line with cautious optimism. He is alarmed, however by the stubborn resistance made to processes of democratization by the Party and state bureaucracy.
“I cannot rule out that both Gorbachev and his closest supporters are themselves not entirely free from the prejudices and dogmas of that system which they want to rebuild. Perestroika of the administrative-command structure of the economy which has formed in our country is extremely complicated. Without the development of market relations and elements of competition, the emergence of dangerous disproportions, inflation, and other negative phenomena is inevitable. <…> Democratization is impossible without a broad popular initiative. But the ‘top’ has turned out not to be prepared for this.”
The situation of Sakharov, released from exile, remains ambiguous. He communicates with foreign journalists without hindrance, meets with heads of state visiting Moscow, but only a few of his short articles and an interview appear in the Soviet press.
Nevertheless, Sakharov obtains enormous public recognition in terms of his moral authority. Hundreds of letters from all the ends of the Soviet Union are addressed to him, with words of support and respect. The name of Sakharov becomes a symbol of hopes for democratic changes in society.
Sakharov's first public speech after his return to Moscow took place in February 1987 at the International Forum for a Nuclear-Free World and the Survival of Humanity.
His position on the issue of reducing the number of medium- and small-range missiles without additional conditions (rejection of the “package” principle) is soon supported by Gorbachev.
This enables negotiations between the USSR and US to significantly advance and already by late 1987, to sign an agreement to destroy medium- and small-range missiles — the first treaty in history on the real reduction of available nuclear arms.
Speech by Andrei Sakharov at the founding conference of Memorial Society. 28 January 1989
Membership card in Memorial Society
Sakharov becomes one of the founders of the Moscow Tribunal political discussion club and honorary co-chairman of Memorial Society, founded to preserve the memory of victims of Stalin's repressions.
He lobbies for permission to publish in the USSR Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book, The Gulag Archipelago, and stubbornly insists on complete release of Soviet political prisoners. Sakharov does not leave his studies of physics. As before, his interests include the issues of international security and also the problems of the environment, questions of the safety of nuclear energy, and inter-ethnic relations in the USSR.
In March 1988, Sakharov wrote an article, “The Inevitability of Perestroika”, for an anthology of political writings, There is No Other Way. In it, he outlined a comprehensive program of reforms urgently needed for the Soviet state and society, in order to halt the growing crisis.
“I want to emphasize that I am convinced of the absolute historical necessity of perestroika. This is like being at war. Victory is inevitable”.
Andrei Sakharov at the ceremony to award him an honorary doctorate in law at the University of Manitoba (Canada). 17 February 1989.
Andrei Sakharov and other participants of the second forum of Nobel laureates at the Sapporo Municipal School (Japan). 1 November 1989.
In December 1988, the European Parliament awards its annual “Freedom of Thought” prize to Sakharov.
The first laureates of the prize were Anatoly Marchenko (posthumously), human rights defender, political prisoner and friend of Sakharov and Nelson Mandela, the South African human rights defender, political prisoner, and future president of the Republic of South Africa.
Nelson Mandela (1918–2013)
Anatoly Marchenko (1938–1986)
In the perestroika period, the highest body of government in the Soviet Union was declared the Congress of People's Deputies of the USSR. In March 1989, elections to the people's deputies of the USSR were held, during which for the first time in the years of Soviet government, voters gained the opportunity to choose among several candidates.
Thanks to Sakharov's enormous popularity, he was elected a delegate to the Congress of People's Deputies from the USSR Academy of Sciences, despite the resistance of its leadership.
Rally of scientists in support of the nomination of Sakharov's candidacy to the elections of people's deputies of the USSR. Moscow. 2 February 1989.
Sessions of the Congress were broadcast live on television and radio. Millions of people attentively watched the turbulent discussion between supporters of the country's democratization and the “aggressively-obedient majority”, striving to preserve unchanged the foundations of the Soviet order.
Letters and telegrams to Deputy Sakharov and notes which were handed to him during meetings with voters. 1989
Appeal to the People of the Soviet Union. Manuscript of Andrei Sakharov. 1 December 1989
Sakharov proposes an amendment to the USSR Constitution in effect, abolition of Article 6, which enforced the one-party system and absolute domination of one political force — the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Liquidation of the Communist Party's monopoly on power should have changed the country's political system radically; however, the Congress refused to put “Deputy Sakharov's Amendment|” to a vote.
Co-chairmen of the Interregional Deputies' Group: (L-R) Yury N. Afanasyev, Boris N. Yeltsin, Andrei D. Sakharov. Gavriil Kh. Popov. Moscow. 28 May 1989
Democratically minded deputies of the Congress united in the Interregional Deputies' Group. Sakharov was elected as one of its co-chairmen.
The IDG became the prototype of a parliamentary opposition. It advocated for political and economic changes in the USSR, and for a radical reform of Soviet society.
Sakharov's allotted time was up, but he took the floor once again, to propose on behalf of the IDG the passage of the “Decree on Power”.
9 June 1989 Opening Day of the I Congress.
The Decree proposed liquidating the monopoly of the CPSU on power and guaranteeing democratic elements in the political organization of the country.
“The Congress cannot immediately feed the country. It cannot immediately resolve ethnic problems. It cannot immediately liquidate the budget deficit. It cannot immediately return to us clear air, water, and forests. But the creation of the political guarantees to resolve these problems — that is what it must do”.
Gorbachev, chairing the session, cuts off Sakharov's speech, and turns off his microphone. The “Decree on Power” was not put to a vote; however, thanks to this television broadcast, the IDG's proposals nevertheless became known throughout the country.
Interview with Andrei Sakharov. Foyer of the Kremlin Palace of Congresses. 13 December 1989
On 14 December 1989, Sakharov worked at home in the morning on preparation of a summary of his forthcoming speech at the II Congress of People's Deputies, then headed off to a meeting of the Interregional Deputies' Group.
“Now we live in a state of profound crisis of trust in the party and the leadership, from which we can only escape with decisive political measures. The abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution and other articles of the Constitution related to it <…> is the most important political act, which is needed precisely now for the country, and not in a year, when the work on the new text of the Constitution will be completed. Then it will already be too late”.