(p. A21) Fifty years ago this Sunday [July 22, 2018], this paper devoted three broadsheet pages to an essay that had been circulating secretly in the Soviet Union for weeks. The manifesto, written by Andrei Sakharov, championed an essential idea at grave risk today: that those of us lucky enough to live in open societies should fight for the freedom of those born into closed ones. This radical argument changed the course of history.
Sakharov’s essay carried a mild title — “Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom” — but it was explosive. “Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of mankind by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships,” he wrote. Suddenly the Soviet Union’s most decorated physicist became its most prominent dissident.
. . .
As Sakharov and his fellow dissidents in the 1970s and ’80s challenged a détente disconnected from human rights, Democrats and Republicans of conscience followed suit. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan disagreed about many specific policies, but both presidents linked human rights and foreign policy. President Carter treated Soviet dissidents not as distractions but as respected partners in a united struggle for freedom. President Reagan went further, tying the fate of specific dissidents to America’s relations with what he called the “evil empire.”
For the full commentary, see:
Natan Sharansky. “The Manifesto That Crippled the Soviets.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 21, 2018): A21.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 20, 2018, and has the title “The Essay That Helped Bring Down the Soviet Union.”)