In early 1970, I received a phone call from Yakov B. Zeldovich.1 He told me that Samuel Lazarevich Zivs,2 a professor of law, very much wished to meet with me; he said that Zivs, a member of the Institute for Government and Law, was a good person and had done him, Zeldovich, some great favors. I agreed to the meeting and Zivs came to see me shortly thereafter.

He began by saying that he had great respect for me and for the views expressed in my book Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom. Zivs also spoke briefly about the work done by his institute, stressing the research it was conducting to support the abolition of the death penalty (later I realized that he was aware of my views on this subject).

Then Zivs came to the business at hand. Elections to the Academy of Sciences would soon be held. It was very important that Viktor Chkhikvadze, the director of the Institute of Government and Law, be elected to the academy. Chkhikvadze was a major legal scholar, a man of very democratic and progressive ideas; jurists and philosophers knew him well and held him in esteem. There was no question that he would be nominated by his department,3 especially since his candidacy was supported by the scientific section of the Party’s Central Committee; complications were possible, however, at the general election. Physicists and mathematicians were, after all, not well-informed people and could easily be swayed by insinuations.

Zivs requested that I support his boss Chkhikvadze’s candidacy. I did not promise anything, saying that I was not able to take a position on a matter of which I knew absolutely nothing. During our conversation, I found myself looking at Zivs’s new and very nice suit, which was clearly not Soviet-made, and I wondered where he had gotten his hands on it.

Chkhikvadze was not successful in the 1970 election. Before the next vote I again was requested by Zivs to support Chkhikvadze, who once more failed to be elected. But soon facts emerged that rendered this problem somewhat obsolete—Chkhikvadze had been removed from his post as director owing to some sort of machinations connected with real estate and (I think) expelled from the Party; in any case he was deprived of the Central Committee’s support, and the institute ceased to nominate him as a candidate.

As for Zivs, I was to encounter his name in a new capacity—as the author of articles and books attacking the “anti-Soviets,” a category that included me. In 1982 Zivs published a book which was a rehash of his previous publications. Entitled The Anatomy of a Lie, the book indeed demonstrates the anatomy of the lie that is used in official propaganda. Itself a particularly good example of that lie, the book is worth examining in some detail.

The author’s principal goal is to smear Amnesty International in order to diminish the moral impact of that portion of Amnesty’s publications which concern the USSR and which pose a danger to the Soviet agencies of repression. The nature of the data used by the author—numerous quotes from Western radio stations, frequently with a precise indication of their broadcast time, unpublished data from Soviet institutions, the records of trials and of the investigations of dissidents, documents confiscated during searches, and so on—is plainly of a sort that could not have been accessible to a private citizen and had been furnished to the author by the KGB. There is no question that Zivs’s entire book had been written as a KGB assignment. The information Zivs had at his disposal was used in the most dishonest and biased manner, and thus his book is a cunning tissue of malicious lies and slander joined by thin threads of half truth.

When writing about Amnesty International Zivs fails to mention that this organization campaigns for the freeing of prisoners of conscience throughout the world and that this is its principal goal. He never uses the term “prisoner of conscience”; if Amnesty’s explicit policy of aiding those who neither resort to violence nor call for its use, and who suffer for their beliefs and for promulgating those beliefs, were known to the reader, the book’s argument would collapse. For that same reason, he conceals from the reader the worldwide scope of Amnesty’s activities and its political impartiality, as well as the fact that the majority of the prisoners defended by Amnesty were not victims of injustice in the socialist countries; he conceals Amnesty’s battle of principle against the death penalty and torture. Valery Chalidze4 once remarked that for the Soviet reader there exists not one but two different organizations—International Amnesty, which is “good,” and Amnesty International, which is “bad.” Zivs only writes about the “bad” one. Of Amnesty’s four secretaries general he mentions only three, those who have displeased the Soviet authorities.


The bulk of Zivs’s book is devoted to slandering the defenders of human rights and other dissidents in the USSR, people who had become victims of cruel and unjust repressive measures. Among them are Shcharansky, Orlov, Pyatkus, Gayauskas, Begun. The case of Anatoly Shcharansky (sentenced to thirteen years of confinement for having allegedly committed espionage) is given six pages in Zivs’s book. The formulas used by the court when sentencing Shcharansky—betrayal of the motherland—are repeated here. But when all the verbiage is scraped away, it becomes clear that what Shcharansky did was to interview a few Jews who had been refused permission to leave the country on the pretext of state secrecy, although the institutions and enterprises for which they had worked were not considered secret, and then to communicate the results of his survey to an American correspondent who published them in his newspaper (some espionage, that publishes its results!). Not a single person interviewed by Shcharansky was charged with divulging secret information, since none could have done so. It is obvious that Shcharansky’s activities were not illegal. Nevertheless they were termed espionage and he was sentenced to thirteen years of confinement. In fact, Shcharansky’s sentence was an attempt to intimidate the Jews—to force them to abandon the idea of emigrating, to separate the Jewish movement for freedom of emigration from the overall struggle for human rights in the USSR (Shcharansky was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Watch Group).

During the investigation (thirteen months) Shcharansky was threatened with execution, but the authorities did not succeed in breaking him. He displays the same fortitude now. In accordance with his sentence he spent the first three years of it in prison. After a short time in a labor camp he was transferred to Christopol Prison where he is subjected to constant cruel persecution—confinement to a punishment cell, i.e., torture by cold and hunger; confiscation of his mail; and deprivation of visiting rights. On September 27, 1982, pushed to the limit, Anatoly Shcharansky announced an indefinite hunger strike, demanding permission for correspondence and to be visited by his elderly mother and his brother. His health and life were in extreme danger. I hope that international public opinion will continue to support Shcharansky in his tragic struggle for his elementary human rights, and I also hope that political figures in the West will demand that the Soviet authorities comply with Shcharansky’s demands.5

Zivs’s book attempts to refute what has been said about the severe conditions for Soviet prisoners, and about psychiatry as a means of crushing dissent. But never has a single international commission—the Red Cross, the World Health Organization, or any other authoritative and impartial body—been allowed into places of confinement in the USSR, and that, better than any words, demonstrates how groundless are Zivs’s efforts at refutation. He writes a good deal about the supposedly slanderous nature of The Chronicle of Current Events, the samizdat journal which provides information about violations of human rights. I consider the Chronicle’s thirteen years of publication a genuine miracle, and I consider it as well an expression of the spirit and moral strength of the human rights movement in the USSR. The authorities’ hatred of the Chronicle, manifested in innumerable acts of persecution and in Zivs’s book, only confirms that evaluation.

A full fifteen pages of Zivs’s book are given to my own case. Here I quote extensively:

Hypersensitive vanity and conceit have combined in Andrei Sakharov…with his pretensions to immunity. He considers himself above the law because he is an “exceptional person.” As is well known, in January 1980 Andrei Sakharov was shown a certain leniency—instead of facing criminal charges for his activities, which gave signs of being crimes against the state, he was, in consideration of his past services and for humanitarian reasons, offered the opportunity [!?] to resettle…in the city of Gorky. This decision was made by the highest governmental body, in precise accordance with its prerogatives and legal norms.

Zivs does not spell out which highest body made the decision to exile me. This is no accident. The presidium of the Supreme Soviet only stripped me of my state awards. Despite my repeated demands, I have never been informed which body, and who personally, made the decision to exile me and place me in illegal isolation. Izvestiya mentions that the decision was made by “competent agencies” and by that, apparently, the KGB is meant. If Zivs considers the KGB the highest governmental body, then everything falls into place.

As for those “signs of crimes against the state,” a lawyer should know that one can only speak of someone having committed a crime when it has been so established in an open court in accordance with the country’s laws and its international agreements. I have said that all my actions have been completely legal, like those of other prisoners of conscience—Orlov, Shcharansky, Kovalyov, and all the others of whom I have written. They have been subjected to cruel and illegal repressive measures; for a while my reputation forced the authorities to refrain in my case from violating its international commitments on human rights and the Soviet constitution. It was specifically that which made me “exceptional,” and to present it as something that would last forever can only indicate a failure to understand the situation, or be an act of provocation. I continue to quote:


In fact, over a period of several years, Sakharov opposed the Soviet Union’s peace policy, its struggle to reduce international tension and limit arms…. It would not be difficult to classify Sakharov’s appeals, addressed to the United States, in which he demanded an arms buildup to ensure their having a position of strength…as a betrayal of his country’s national interests…. In typically American fashion, Sakharov is displeased that Western Europe does not always display sufficient enthusiasm for… and submit to the dictates of the “democracy across the sea….” He definitely proceeds from the assumption that the Soviet Union must be met with armed resistance, and he began by calling on the USA to perfect its arms…. As for the social system chosen by our people, he deems its violent overthrow (by any means, even including outside force) permissible, advisable, and necessary.

Zivs has piled up an entire mountain of deliberate and dangerous lies which thoroughly distort my position. According to Zivs, I advocate the violent overthrow of the Soviet system, intervention, and war. But I have frequently stated that, by conviction, I am an evolutionist and opposed to violence. Zivs completely conceals from his reader the basic ideas I stand for: the convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems, the best features of each being retained, as an alternative to armed confrontation; the necessity for an open society where human rights are observed; strategic parity with a gradual repudiation of mutual nuclear terror. Yes, I say that it is necessary to restore and maintain parity in conventional weapons, but for the sake of removing the threat of nuclear destruction from mankind. Yes, I say that it is necessary to restore nuclear parity in Europe—precisely that, since there is no other way of achieving strategic parity. Yes, I say that our society needs pluralistc reforms—so that it can flourish, and for the sake of international trust and security as well.

The remainder of Zivs’s account is equally biased. For example, I have warned against certain of the dangers of progress, yet Zivs depicts me as an advocate of some sort of gloomy biological-cybernetic utopia. But Zivs becomes most heated and venomous when he writes about the freedom of information, in particular, information concerning violations of human rights in the USSR. Here Zivs’s attacks and dangerous and provocative lies are directed at members of my family as well as myself. “A spreader of disinformation, a slanderer, an instigator, an opponent of détente who tries to hide under the umbrella of the Final Act [of the Helsinki accords].” Zivs presents no examples of the lies that I am supposed to have promulgated.

All his activity was oriented to the West…. He has used members of his own family as his emissaries, particularly his wife, Elena Bonner, who just happened to be in Rome in 1977, under the pretense of receiving treatment for her eyes, just as a “Sakharov Hearing”6 was being held.

Zivs deliberately misspells my wife’s last name to make it seem more Jewish [an orthographic distinction not reproducible in English—translator]. My wife was in Italy for treatment and an operation, not “under the pretense of receiving treatment.” She returned to the USSR before the hearings. Zivs continues:

Efrem and Tatyana Yankelevich [Sakharov’s son-in-law and step-daughter], cast in the role of “Sakharov’s representatives abroad,” do not disdain even the basest means of fanning the flames of anti-Soviet hysteria…. A grey-haired old man in the cloak of a Metropolitan bends down to a four-year-old boy. The caption under the picture reads: “Cardinal Joseph Slipy deferentially hugs little Matvei, Andrei Sakharov’s grandson.” That the child is not Sakharov’s grandson but his present wife’s is not so important here. What is important is that the boy’s last name is Yankelevich [i.e., Jewish]. And there is that Slipy, whose hands are stained with the blood of the Lvov ghetto,7 blessing Matvei Yankelevich. And his parents—Elena Bonner’s daughter Tatyana and her husband, Efrem, offer him up for the “Cardinal’s” blessing, anything to create a cheap sensation.

Yet another distortion. During the hearing Tanya and Efrem left Matvel in the care of a young girl; he ran away from her and walked over to Slipy who was waiting his turn to speak. Slipy was arrested by Stalin for refusing to sanction the absorption of the Uniates (Eastern-rite Roman Catholics) by Russian Orthodoxy, and tens of thousands of his flock were arrested along with him. Slipy and his co-believers spent long years in prison and many perished there.8 I quote further:

No few single-minded efforts are spared using the West’s mass media to paint a picture of the “fear and horror” with which Sakharov must live in Gorky…. It must be said that the fabrication of fantasies about the “horrors of seclusion” in Gorky are fostered by the provocative statements which Sakharov himself and particularly his wife, Elena Bonner, regularly make. Those statements are carefully thought-out legends “about the repulsive crimes” committed by officials, legends that are consciously calculated to compromise the agencies of state authority. Such are the stories of how Sakharov was knocked to the ground and beaten unmercifully by policemen in Gorky, the tall tale of his notes and manuscripts being stolen, and the cock-and-bull story of how, pistols in hand, officials would not permit him onto the platform at the railroad station to say goodbye to Bonner’s mother.

I have already written how my wife and I were thrown to the floor by policemen when we tried to learn what had happened to our guest who had been detailed outside our door, and that it was my wife (not me) who had been struck in the eye; I have also described the other incidents which Zivs writes of with such irony and mockery. I have written them down as precisely and fully as possible, and my wife has, on my behalf, made them public.

Zivs calls a “tall tale” my statement concerning the theft on March 13, 1981, by KGB men of a bag containing my manuscripts—scientific papers, diaries, and my memoirs, the fruit of many months, even years, of work—as well as personal letters and documents. On October 11, 1982, KGB agents stole another bag containing a revised version of my memoirs—900 pages in handwritten manuscript and 500 typed pages—along with many irreplaceable documents which were of great significance to us. And aren’t these “repulsive crimes committed by officials”? Or is this yet another cock-and-bull story, as Zivs would have it?

I would not have written about Zivs’s part in the intrigues with the Academy of Sciences elections, which are of little interest to me now. But Zivs’s book, which I came across while still shocked by the theft of my papers, with its slander and disinformation about the international human rights organization, Amnesty International; its slander of me, members of my family, and friends who have been the victims of injustice; its slander of Anatoly Shcharansky, tragically struggling for the right to see his mother and to write to her—that could not remain unanswered.

Translated from the Russian
by Richard Lourie

Copyright © 1983 by Anderi Sakharov

This Issue

July 21, 1983