A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov


A statue of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov was unveiled Monday in St. Petersburg, despite criticism from his widow who said today’s Russia has failed her husband.

The 10 1/2-foot bronze statue depicts the Nobel peace laureate, slightly stooped but with his head held high, standing with hands tied behind his back atop a stone pedestal on a square that was named after him in 1996.

The monument by sculptor Levon Lazarev’s was unveiled a few weeks after a city commission in Moscow gave the green light to a stalled plan for another statue of Sakharov in the capital.

Yelena Bonner was opposed to both statues, saying Russia has failed to live up to Sakharov’s ideals of freedom and democracy since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It is out of place to erect a monument to Sakharov in today’s Russia,″ the Interfax news agency quoted Bonner as saying. She said she was not consulted.

“There’s no money to publish his works widely, so that people would finally read them, but they can put up a monument,″ Bonner told Russia’s TVS television by phone from Boston, where she lives.

The unveiling drew about 100 people, among them intellectuals and former dissidents who supported a transition to democracy at the time of the Soviet collapse.

A physicist who helped design the Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov became a staunch promoter of human rights and world peace, and spent seven years in internal exile for speaking out. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.

Source: “Monument to Sakharov Unveiled in Russia,” Associated Press, 5 May 2003


A Little Song about the Physicist Sakharov

The physicist Sakharov
Was one bad dude.
Oh, how he made us seethe!
Why do we suffer that fool?

It later suddenly transpired
That he was a real good cat.
We felt sorry for the poor man
And guiltily ate our hats.

Now it’s been ascertained
That he was bad news after all.
We’re seething once again.
Why did we suffer that fool?

If again it turns out
That he was, in fact, a good egg,
Ah, we'll regret it again,
And put on guilty mugs.

8 August 2022

Source: German Lukomnikov, “New Poems,” Volga 1 (2023). Thanks to ES for the suggestion. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russian prosecutors on Monday declared as “undesirable” the U.S.-based foundation that preserves the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov as Moscow continues to crack down on dissent in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The activities of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation (ASF) “constitute a threat to the foundation of Russia’s constitutional order and security,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

Under Russian law, individuals believed to have cooperated with an “undesirable” international NGO face steep fines and jail terms.

ASF, based in Springfield, Virginia outside Washington, says its goal is to promote Sakharov’s works to “support peace efforts and anti-war events.”

The organization chaired by mathematician Alexei Semyonov has not yet commented on Russia’s latest designation.

Russian authorities have declared more than 70 organizations — including media outlets focused on exposing fraud and corruption in Russia — “undesirable” between mid-2015 and early 2023.

Sakharov, once feted as a hero of the Soviet defense industry for his role in developing the Soviet nuclear bomb, became one of the U.S.S.R.’s most prominent dissidents from the late 1960s. 

He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work against the nuclear arms race he had helped precipitate, though he was not permitted to leave the Soviet Union to accept the award.

Sakharov became one of the most distinctive personalities of the perestroika era, rising to the status of a national moral authority.

Arrested in 1980 after denouncing the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Sakharov was sent into internal exile in the city of Nizhny Novgorod, then closed to foreigners.

After six years in exile, during which he undertook several hunger strikes, Sakharov was released over a telephone call by reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Source: “Russia Labels U.S.-Based Sakharov Foundation ‘Undesirable,’” Moscow Times, 24 January 2023