The Sakharov Prize, the European Parliament and human rights worldwide

The life of Andrei Sakharov

Born on 21 May 1921 in Moscow, Andrei Dmitrievitch Sakharov grew up in a family of scientists and studied physics at the Lomonosov University in the capital. Following the Second World War he worked in a laboratory focusing on the development of nuclear weapons. Sakharov played a major role in the development of the Soviet Union’s first thermonuclear bomb, which was tested in August 1953. A model Soviet citizen, he was winner of the Lenin Prize in 1950 and the youngest member of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Considered the ‘father of the Soviet H-bomb’, Sakharov was honoured by the Communist regime for his contribution to the Soviet Union’s nuclear power. However, Sakharov became increasingly worried by the growing number of nuclear tests and began a reflective journey that would gradually lead him to dissidence. Initially committing himself against the arms race, Sakharov soon fully devoted himself to the defence of human rights and the cause of freedom and became one of the Soviet Union’s leading dissenting intellectuals.

In 1968 Sakharov secretly published Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, which advocated for the deepening of a peaceful coexistence strategy between the United States and the Soviet Union. Sakharov also publicly defended political prisoners, founding a Committee for Human Rights and the Defence of Victims of Political Trials in 1970. Due to these beliefs he became subject to increasingly repressive measures by the Soviet regime and was the victim of vitriolic attacks from the press.

Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, but as he was prohibited from leaving the Soviet Union his wife Elena Bonner received the prize in Oslo in the name of her husband. He had all his honorary titles removed in 1980 and was placed under house arrest until 1986. But as government policy relaxed under glasnost attitudes softened, and he was elected to the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences. Sakharov eventually became a member of the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union, before passing away later that year in Moscow on 14 December 1989 aged 68.