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FP: Did the Soviet leaders treat Bonner differently from the way they treated Sakharov?
JB: Yes. Not surprisingly in light of their anti-Semitism and strong animus towards Israel, Soviet leaders both privately and in public ascribed her dissidence to her being Jewish, and claimed that her actions as a dissident were designed somehow to benefit Israel; in the Soviet press she was often condemned as a “Zionist.” In addition, the Soviet leadership sought to diminish Sakharov – whose accomplishments included the construction of the Soviet hydrogen bomb – by describing him as Bonner’s puppet – a tactic which had the effect of making Bonner ostensibly responsible not only for her own dissidence, but for her husband’s as well. The image of a duplicitous and scheming Bonner manipulating the naïve and innocent Sakharov in the pursuit of her own evil designs was a common one in the occasional press campaigns against the latter in the 1970s and 1980s.
FP: What did Bonner see as her role in life after Sakharov’s death in December 1989?
JB: Her foremost obligation, as she saw it, was to preserve his memory and the ideals to which he had devoted his life after becoming a dissident in the late 1960s. It was thus entirely fitting that at Sakharov’s funeral she pointedly wore the grey fur hat he favored while attending outdoor demonstrations in Moscow and elsewhere for victims of government repression.
But it was in the years after Sakharov’s death that Bonner showed conclusively that all along she was always her own person, and that her dissidence, while obviously influenced by her husband’s, was, at bottom, self-generated and self-sufficient. She condemned as “genocidal” the tactics Russian forces used in the Chechen campaigns in the 1990s, and was not mollified when Vladimir Putin, in a gesture of conciliation, placed flowers on Sakharov’s grave in February 2000. To Bonner, the Putin regime was a form of neo-Stalinism, and therefore the embodiment of everything she and Sakharov had fought against when the Soviet Union existed.
In her last years, Bonner also spoke out publicly on behalf of the state of Israel, defending it passionately and eloquently against the Muslim and “third world” dictatorships that hypocritically condemned the Jewish state for imagined human rights violations while flagrantly and consistently oppressing their own people.
FP: What is Bonner’s legacy? What is the principal lesson one can learn from her life?
JB: To me it shows that humanity is still capable, albeit infrequently, of producing persons of integrity and courage, whose unflagging efforts to advance the ethical principles they believe in give one at least some reason to hope that these principles will eventually be realized in the laws, the policies, and the actions of sovereign nations. While today in Russia the heroism of Sakharov and Bonner is only dimly remembered, if it is remembered at all, there is now in Moscow a “Sakharov movement,” the members of which seek to replicate in themselves the personal example Sakharov and Bonner set during their years as dissidents, and to resurrect the noble ethical principles they fought for against seemingly insurmountable odds.
FP: And what does Elena Bonner’s passing means to you personally?
JB: That the world is diminished morally as a result of it. But I also believe that there are human beings with her many virtues who are yet to be born.
FP: Jay Bergman, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
I would like to say, on behalf of our staff here at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and on behalf of many of our Frontpage readers, that we all light a candle in our hearts in respectful memory and appreciation to Elena Bonner.
And on behalf of my own family, especially my mother, Marina Glazov, who also fought courageously within the dissident movement against the Soviet monstrosity, and who notified me, with great sorrow, about Elena’s passing, I would like to say: We love you Elena. Thank you.
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