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In Moscow, the farewell to the legendary Sakharov Center


Last move before the end of a world. In the small Moscow apartment that has served as the “Sakharov Museum” since 1996, the displays are emptying, boxes are piling up. Dedicated to the dissident and 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner, the place is closing its doors. It belongs to the city of Moscow, and it has ordered the Sakharov Center, the structure that oversees the museum, to vacate the premises before February 24.

Entirely in her task to save what can be saved, Natalia Tiourina does not want to see any malice in the choice of this date, the first anniversary of the “special military operation” in Ukraine. According to the vice-director of the Centre, the city is only applying “zealously” the new law on “foreign agents”, adopted in its new version in December 2022. This prohibits state structures from providing any assistance to “foreign agents”, a label whose Sakharov Center has been decked out since 2014.

Preparations for moving the archives of Academician Andrei Sakharov and the “Sakharov Museum” to Moscow on January 30, 2023.

In addition to artifacts retracing the life of the physicist (1921-1989), father of the Soviet H-bomb before becoming one of the most important dissidents of his time, the museum houses valuable archives. “Put away all these boxes, I am struck by the number of letters that Sakharov received, of support or appeal for help, notes Andrei Bakhmin, head of archives. There are also extraordinary pieces, such as this KGB document recovered in the 1990s by his widow, Elena Bonner. It is about the order given to the agents to wiretap his apartment, in 1970, when Sakharov began to criticize the Soviet power. »

Read the analysis: Article reserved for our subscribers The legacy of Andrei Sakharov: from dissidents of the USSR to opponents of Vladimir Putin

In a hurry, the small team endeavored to complete the work of digitizing the archives undertaken a few years ago and moved the boxes to a dusty neighboring apartment, occupied by the Sakharov couple on their return from their forced exile in Gorky ( Nijni-Novgorod), in 1986. This one does not belong to the city of Moscow, it has kept the traces of the life of the couple, from the furniture in the brownish hues typical of the Soviet Union to the vinyls that liked the physicist.

In the apartment where Academician Andrei Sakharov lived, which will house the museum archives.  In Moscow, January 30, 2023.

Fine of 5 million rubles

This is the very last possible fallback. The time, like the means, is lacking for this painstaking work: from the start of the “special operation”, approximately two thirds of the employees chose exile; others have been dismissed, the Center no longer being able to pay them, cut off from its foreign financing by the banking sanctions applied against Russia.

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