about the event
May 21, 2021 marked the 100th birthday of Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov, one of the twentieth century’s most ardent and unrelenting champions for human rights and freedom. With the publication of his essay in the New York Times in July 1968 advocating for human rights and open, democratic societies, the Soviet Union’s most famous physicist became its most well-known dissident.
In the midst of Sakharov’s centennial, the United States and Russia are very different countries than they once were, but official relations are once again hostile, and Russian authorities continue to try to isolate and suppress civil society. Despite the high personal cost, activists, journalists, lawyers, and ordinary citizens continue to work courageously to realize Sakharov’s vision of peace and human rights. The ideas Sakharov stood for – that, despite ideological differences, the Soviet Union and the United States could eventually converge around universal principles of human rights, accountability to their citizens, and the urgent need to repair the problems of our world – remain as vital and relevant today as they were in his lifetime.
In this panel discussion, Natan Sharansky, Irwin Cotler, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Ambassador Daniel Fried, Stephen Biegun, and Miriam Lanskoy reflected on their memories of the great man and the enduring significance of Sakharov’s message of peaceful coexistence linked by shared democratic values amidst the turmoil of the day.
This event is co-sponsored by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights.
About the Speakers
Natan Sharansky is the Chairman of the Institute of the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. After being denied a visa to emigrate to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1973, he became a refusenik, human rights activist, translator for Andrei Sakharov, and spokesman for Moscow Helsinki Group.
Irwin Cotler is International Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. As an international human rights lawyer, he served as counsel to numerous former prisoners of conscience, including Andrei Sakharov.
Vladimir Kara-Murza is a Russian democratic activist, opposition politician, and filmmaker. He is the vice president of the Free Russia Foundation and Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom.
Ambassador Daniel Fried is currently a Weiser Family Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council and serves on the National Endowment for Democracy’s Board of Directors. In his forty-year Foreign Service career, he played a role implementing American foreign policy in Europe after the Soviet collapse.
Stephen E. Biegun concluded his most recent government service as the Deputy Secretary of State in 2021. From1992-1994, Mr. Biegun was the Resident Program Director in the Russian Federation for the International Republican Institute.
Miriam Lanskoy is the Senior Director for Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Tatiana Yankelevich is the daughter of the late Elena Bonner, Andrei Sakharov’s widow. Formerly director of the Sakharov Program on Human Rights at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, Tatiana is an independent scholar affiliated with the Davis Center.
Header image adapted from RIA Novosti archive image #25981 by Vladimir Fedorenko under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.