Sakharov Speaks Out

The following is the transcript of an interview between Andrei Sakharov, Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident in the Soviet Union, and Columbia Spectator reporters Joseph Ferullo, Mitch Rollnick, and Suzanne Moore. The interview, which took place in Sakharov's Moscow apartment on January 19, is also being published in the Brown Daily Herald, Columbia Daily Spectator. Cornell Daily Sun. The Dartmouth, and the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Q: Andrei Dimitryevich (Sakharov), you have said you became a "free-thinker," a dissident, due to certain psychological and intellectual developments in your life. Could you explain what these shifts have been?

A: This is difficult to explain--it is because of my whole life. It is because of our country, with the repressions and absence of intellectual and other freedoms, the hard conditions of our lives. [Speaking out] is a very great responsibility. In my work on the center of atomic warfare, I understood this great responsibility.

But you know, such development is not only personal, it comes from connection with other people. It is more than a personal process, it is a social process, a whole life.

Q: Could you tell us something about the Soviet academic system? What is taught and how? What are its basic ideas and goals?

A: I don't know much about what is learned in the humanities. I think there are good teachers who could give their students the broad picture, but they are hampered by ideological ties, and must tell their students some words about Marxism, which is in my opinion unfortunate.

I know more closely the system in physical sciences, mathematical science, and so on. The development of this system was sometimes ideological, but the necessary development of the country in technology broke the traditions and the ideology.

Q: You have said that you do not favor radical change, but change over a long period of time--evolution, not revolution. Could you explain this more and say how you see this developing in the USSR?

A: I must explain my position on this. The political questions of fighting, violence, revolution--these are not my profession. I think that violence in politics is a very hard thing; it leads to a very large portion of blood, death and so on.

In our country, in a very short time we have seen revolutions and the troubles of people. And we are tired of all this. We don't want violence, we think that evolution is the only possible way to obtain positive results--though not in a short time.

Of course, we understand that our system is very conservative. It is a system with great differences in position--a party elite--but it presents the front of a monolith. Our society, the way it is today, could not evolve in a good direction; but revolution would be more tragic than the state we have today.

The action of individuals can have a resonance in many other people. Many people have sympathy for me and my friends, and we think that in a long time there will be results. Evolutionary results, not revolutionary results. When it will be, I don't know.

In the near future, nothing will change. Soon Brezhnev will go, but the other leaders who will reach his position will not be different. Our system is conservative in all senses and the positions of leaders are conservative too.

Q: You say the government is conservative. Do you think there is also a liberal tradition in Russia?

A: I think there is no liberal tradition. For 60 years our country has been a totalitarian government. Our tradition is not liberalism but totalitarianism. Some people understand the need [for liberalism], but the whole system is so conservative, there is little opportunity for change.