"Speaking the truth," says Andrei D. Sakharov, "is an absolute necessity." For some in public life those words are no more than a conventional piety. But for the famed Soviet physicist and political dissident, they embody a central and compelling value.
Sakharov has suffered a loss of livelihood and freedom because he chose to act on the necessity for speaking the truth about the condition of human rights in the Soviet Union. Most recently he endured nearly seven years of internal exile for criticizing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Last December Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev ended Sakharov's banishment and allowed him to return to Moscow. Since then Sakharov has endorsed Gorbachev's reformist efforts. Now the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has also made clear that he will continue to press for honesty in confronting the Soviet past.
That intention was made known in an interview published this week in the limited circulation Moscow News, and in subsequent comments to American news media. In the interview, given before Gorbachev's long speech last Monday reviewing events since the Bolshevik Revolution, Sakharov notes that "the entire horrible history of Stalin and his era has not yet been told." There were some who hoped that Gorbachev would finally produce an official public reassessment of those terrible years. He did not. Instead, guided by apparent continuing internal conflicts over how far official candor can be allowed to proceed, Gorbachev stepped gingerly around the issue of the crimes of the Stalin era. He did say that a Communist Party commission to investigate that period has been set up, which Sakharov finds encouraging. But some skepticism is in order about just how comprehensive and honest that review will be permitted to be.