Russian Ignorance, Unbound
“One of our professors talked about him in a lecture. But I don’t really remember now exactly what he said.”
Those were the words of 17-year old Russian law student Maria Danilyants. The “him” she was referring to was Andrei Sakharov, and she was being asked about him by Michael Schwirtz of the New York Times because his wife Yelena Bonner had just passed away.
If you think Ms. Danilyants is an ignorant buffoon, think again. She’s by far the brightest person in her law school class, because not a single one of her classmates could place the name “Sakharov” at all. This is very much the same as if a class of American law students in New York City turned out to have no idea who Martin Luther King was. That is, if America had collapsed and been replaced by another country because it didn’t listen to King.
Cynics on Russia though we may be, we continue to be utterly stunned by the extent of Russian barbarism and ignorance. It is truly not inaccurate to refer to Russia as “Zaire with permafrost” and it is truly breathtaking that Russians can look at any other country and think themselves even remotely erudite.
The Times reports: “A survey conducted last year by the Levada Center, a respected polling agency in Moscow, found that 44 percent of Russians ages 18 to 24 knew nothing about Sakharov. Of those who did, only 9 percent knew that he was a champion of human rights and a dissident.”
Sakharov was of course, among many other things, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 (King had won the same prize ten years earlier). You would think the recipient of a rare international honor like that would come in for more respect from his countrymen. Yet you would think, for all that young Russians know about him, the Soviet government were still in power and repressing his biography. But then, of course, Russia is in fact ruled by a proud KGB spy named Vladimir Putin who is doing his best to rehabilitate the man, Josef Stalin, whose legacy Sakharov struggled so valiantly to overcome.
It’s not to say that all young Russians are barbarians, of course. That tiny segment, 10% of the population, that has a clue is struggling as best they can to educate the others. They’ve started a Facebook page and created a website to preserve Sakharov’s legacy.
Cathy Young explains why this is needed:
Ironically, in death, Bonner was finally honored in her own country, with state-run TV airing pious tributes that conveniently omitted her activism after Sakharov’s death. It’s the sort of hypocrisy Bonner would have viewed with wry amusement. Yet she never lost the hope that someday, freedom in Russia would thrive — though she knew she would not live to see it.
What progress can the Sakharov activists expect to make when the Putin regime does not want to focus on human rights or democratic values, the things that Sakharov risked his life to nurture? When the regime will not even tell the people about the life of his wife as far as it pertains to Putin? To the contrary, what the Putin regime wants, and what it is actively doing, is to repress and liquidate anyone who might be considered to be the “next Sakharov” — think Starovoitova, Politkovskaya, and so on.