“A country that does not respect the rights of its own people will not respect the rights of its neighbors,” he often explained.
As Sakharov and his fellow dissidents in the 1970s and ’80s challenged a détente disconnected from human rights, Democrats and Republicans of conscience followed suit.
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan disagreed about many specific policies, but both presidents linked human rights and foreign policy.
President Carter treated Soviet dissidents not as distractions but as respected partners in a united struggle for freedom.
The wisdom of Sakharov’s essay may not be in fashion these days, but the truth it contains is eternal.
People all over the world are waiting for an American leader to recover it.
Sakharov’s essay, which coincided with the Prague Spring, helped energize democratic dissident movements that were just budding in a post-Stalinist world.
The largest of these was one I would soon join: the so-called refusenik movement to allow the Soviet Union’s long-oppressed Jews the freedom to emigrate.
Some Russian dissidents mistrusted the Zionist movement as particularistic and unpatriotic, fearing it would distract from their broader human rights agenda. He supported the refuseniks because he recognized the right to emigrate as a gateway to democratic entitlement that opens everyone to embracing freedom in a closed society.
By the mid-1970s I was serving as Sakharov’s spokesman, and I remember after yet another friend of ours had been sentenced to prison, he told me: “They want us to believe there’s no chance of success.