The following interview is extracted from a six-hour conversation tape-recorded with Andrei Sakharov at his apartment in Moscow this January. The interviewer, the French writer Jean-Pierre Barou, was accompanied by his interpreter, Phillipe Frison. Sakharov’s wife, Elena Bonner, joined in the conversation from time to time. A somewhat different version was published in Le Figaro and other European papers.
JEAN-PIERRE BAROU: The new Soviet electoral law provides for the creation next March of a People’s Assembly with 2,250 members. Two thirds of them will be chosen by universal suffrage. The final third will be nominated by political organizations or by social and professional organizations—
ANDREI SAKHAROV: Let me interrupt you immediately. What you are describing is only the most minute part of a very complex mechanism, which includes a great many snares and hidden aspects that make it much less than democratic.
In my view the new electoral system has two major faults. The candidates who run for office undergo a process of selection that is not democratic and isn’t based on any formal criteria. On what grounds candidates were eliminated I have no idea. I simply note that the same thing happened last June when it came to sending delegates to the Party conference. We saw then that the opponents of progressive ideas, of glasnost, were preferred and were prominent at the conference. But, above all, the elections take place at several levels.
JPB: Are you thinking of the Supreme Soviet?
AS: Indeed I am. Its four hundred delegates, who are drawn from the People’s Assembly, will elect the president, but we also don’t know by what criteria they will be chosen. We are told that one fifth of the delegates will come up for reappointment every year, but according to what principles? We have no way of knowing.
JPB: Are the people, and I don’t mean just the intellectuals, interested in this debate?
AS: Yes, but they are cautious. We aren’t seeing any material benefits from perestroika. And yet the people aren’t interested only in material goods. They want to see an end to the lying. But it is still going on. We’re in a period of transition, looking for the path toward higher ground. But we have to wait.
JPB: Do you think military or diplomatic secrecy can become less oppressive? Could glasnost provide an opening?
AS: I believe that very few secrets are really important. As I see it, the less there are of them, the better it is for world stability. This is why I consider the presence of spy satellites a factor promoting peace and confidence. The better we know other countries, our potential enemies, the safer the world will be. The notion of the military and diplomatic secret should be abolished.
JPB: Are you considered a leader of the democratic opposition in the USSR today?
AS: I don’t think I’ve ever had the soul of a leader. I try hard to …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.