MY COUNTRY AND THE WORLD, by Andrei Sakharov. 109 pages (Collins Harvill) £2.25.
Academician Sakharov’s latest book shows very clearly how his political views have changed as a result of the experiences suffered for his role as the Soviet Union’s number one dissident.
In the summer of 1968, Sakharov first published his ideas on the relationship between his country and the rest of the world in a long essay entitled “Progress, Co-existence and Intellectual freedom”.
At that time, his ideas could have been generally classified as “liberal Communist”. Today, they are unequivocably “social democratic”. This in itself is an amazing achievement in view of the pressure of the situation which would force the most intelligent of men to become a reactionary.
One of the book’s five chapters is entitled: “The freedom to choose one’s country of residence”. Sakharov writes:
I regard emigration to Israel as a phenomenon that has meaning for all mankind and is of basic importance in the tragic thousands of years history of the Jewish people. I understand and respect the nationalist sentiments of those Jews who are going off to build and defend their newly-acquired homeland which has come into being after centuries of diaspora.
He also points out that the question of Jewish emigration to Israel has overshadowed the general question of freedom of emigration for all. In particular, he attacks West German political leaders for not raising their voices in support of the thousands of Soviet Germans who have been refused permission to emigrate.
Sakharov once again reiterates his support for the Jackson Amendment—”an act of historic significance that continues the best democratic and humanitarian traditions of the American people”. He argues that the passing of the amendment did not in fact undermine emigration, but was a natural extension of the pressure placed on the authorities in recent years.
He puts the blame for the difficulties surrounding the Amendment not on “interference in the internal affairs of the USSR”, but on the lack of unity amongst the western countries.
In a scathing attack on the political leadership of London, Paris, Bonn and Tokyo, Sakharov asks why these Governments passed no legislation on the Jackson amendment or even so much as discussed it. “Europeans who have lived through the horrors of Hitlerian fascism should understand the necessity for defending human rights at least as well as the Americans”, he writes.
Sakharov is clearly disillusioned with the cynicism of international politics and with the fact that despite all the talk about detente and peace, the most fundamental principle of good will to one’s fellow man is ignored and abused.
In a chapter devoted to Indo-China and the Middle East, Sakharov argues that as Washington prevented Israel from routing the Arabs in the Yom Kippur War, the US and the European nations assumed responsibility for the fate of Israel and were morally bound to stand up to the economic blackmail of the oil-rich Arabs and the arms deals of the Soviets. The absence of such an attitude, Sakharov points out, was due to the disunity of the West.
On the question of the Palestinians, he believes that the answer will be found only when they, Israel and Jordan come to a mutually acceptable solution.
In a chapter entitled “The liberal intelligentsia of the west: illusions and responsibilities”, Sakharov attacks what he terms “leftist liberal faddishness”. He accuses western intellectuals of virtual intellectual dishonesty in ignoring injustice in the USSR and of trying to keep up with their children’s radical ideas to show that they are not old-fashioned.
But he is hopeful that the western intelligentsia will protest more vigorously for human rights and cites as an example of what should be done the British campaign for the Panovs.
In the last section of the book, Sakharov lists twelve reforms that he believes should take placein the USSR. These include the setting up of a multi-party system, freedom to leave the country and return to it and equal rights for all citizens as a basic principle of the State.
This is an honest and open book. The social democratic ideals expressed are arrived at in a closed society. Such an evolutionary path does not exist in this country and consequently these ideals are accepted here as commonplace and are even sometimes abused and distorted by political careerists.
Sakharov’s clarity of thought and depth of decency pervade the book. It is a publication which certainly befits the 1975 Nobel Prize winner.
Jewish Observer 10 January 1976