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February 15: Bonner and Sakharov

February 15, 2014
_53507577_012251520-1Soviet human rights activist Elena Bonner, who was married to physicist Andrei Sakharov and served as his international advocate, ally, and companion during his many years of exile as a human rights dissident, was born in Turkmenistan on this date in 1923. Her father, an Armenian, was the founder of the Soviet Armenian Communist Party; he was executed during Stalin’s Great Purge in 1937. Her mother, a Jew, was also a communist, and spent eight years in a forced labor camp. Bonner was twice wounded as a nurse during World War II, and then became a pediatrician. She became involved with Sakharov in 1970, and represented him when he won the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize. (She was out of the USSR for medical treatment for her war wounds.) Bonner helped to found the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976, and was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to five years of exile in Gorky, along with Sakharov, who had been there since 1980 because of his opposition to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Using hunger strikes as their main weapon of protest, they remained in the international spotlight and forced Mikhail Gorbachev to allow their return to Moscow in 1986. Bonner was an outspoken challenger of Vladimir Putin’s autocratic style of governance and a harsh critic of the Soviet repression of the Chechans. She died at 88 in 2011. “Until the [Communist] party truly gives up all its wealth to the people who really earned it, everything, down to the last . . . ruble, Stalinism will still triumph and it will still triumph until we can establish the principle of sovereignty.” —Elena Bonner