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An Impossible, Great, and Priceless Woman



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In Impromptus today, I have a note on Yelena Bonner, the great dissident who passed away a few days ago. I say, “Her greatness may have been slightly obscured by the fact that she was married to a man of almost fathomless greatness, Andrei Sakharov.” I also quote from an interview I conducted with her last year. I thought I’d do a little more quoting, here in the Corner.

One of the things I asked her about was the 1985 Nobel peace prize: It went to a group called International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. One of its founders and chairmen was Dr. Yevgeny Chazov, a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party — not well-known as a peace organization. In 1973, along with other members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he signed a letter denouncing Sakharov (who would receive the 1975 Nobel peace prize). This was the letter judged to have launched the official campaign of persecution against the scientist-dissident.

Last summer, Bonner reflected, “I can say that many of Chazov’s Western colleagues [in the anti-nuclear organization] were wonderful people and high professionals. But they, I think, understand nothing of the essence of socialism-totalitarianism, and were very easily deceived by the organization’s name.”

She continued, “Millions of people today are deceived just as easily, believing in the slogan of the Middle East ‘Quartet,’ ‘Two states for two peoples.’ And I’m afraid that they will realize their mistake only after it becomes impossible to save the State of Israel without a third world war. It will be like Munich. You remember what Chamberlain said: ‘I have brought you peace.’ And the Second World War began!”

In Bonner’s view, the Nobel peace prize had “been devalued.” And “the award to Barack Obama in 2009 did not strengthen its moral value, but rather devalued it further. This is not because Obama is good or bad but because the Nobel was awarded to him during the first year of his presidency, when he had not yet done anything, except manage to start a war in Afghanistan.”

In her last years, at least, she did not always have a perfect command of the facts. But her convictions were unmistakable. As I say in my column, Yelena Bonner was “cantankerous, impossible, and wonderful.” As I also say, I loved her. She suffered greatly, and fought bravely, and beat evil back. I consider her one of the giants of our age.



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