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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberals Celebrate Sakharov's Legacy

MTA crowd gathering Sunday near the Sakharov Museum on what would have been the late physicist's 85th birthday.
A celebration of what would have been the 85th birthday of Soviet-era human rights activist Andrei Sakharov on Sunday drew the country's top liberals, who condemned the current government.

The party, featuring a short jazz concert and white balloons with the word "Freedom" printed on them, included party leaders such as Nikita Belykh of the Union of Right Forces, Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko and Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Republican Party.

Yury Samodurov, director of the Sakharov Center, a civil liberties group that also marked its 10th anniversary Sunday, took to the stage to decry politically motivated prosecutions, a servile courts system and the elimination, as he sees it, of political opposition. He offered some cause for hope, and said more people were embracing freedom than when Sakharov was alive and that today's government was a "dictatorship" but not as brutal as the Soviet one had been.

"Five to 10 percent of the country's people share our values, Sakharov's values," Samodurov said. Those figures also represent the proportion of the electorate that backed liberal parties in past State Duma elections.

Belykh urged people to take to the streets to defend their freedom, while Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion who is now involved in politics, said Sakharov would have strongly criticized the current government.

"His voice would be the most vocal among those who criticize the current leadership," Kasparov said.

State Duma Deputy Alexander Chuyev, who has been at odds with the Sakharov Center over a controversial art exhibition, conceded that Sakharov played an important role in Russian history but said the center bearing his name had betrayed his ideals.

A court convicted Samodurov last year of instigating religious and ethnic hatred, ruling that the center insulted Orthodox believers with a display that included depictions of Jesus Christ and other Christian symbols.

Vladimir Filonov / MT

Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and his daughter, Maria, at the event.

Chuyev, who sponsored a parliamentary resolution condemning the exhibition, said many rights advocates "are not ready to see good developments in the country because they ... don't want it to be great."

Sakharov played a key role in the creation of the Soviets' hydrogen bomb in the 1950s but became involved in politics after becoming disenchanted with the regime. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 but lived in exile in Gorky, now known as Nizhny Novgorod, under tight surveillance for six years in the 1980s. He was allowed to return to Moscow in 1986 and died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 68.