The History of the Sakharov Center
In January 1990 the Commission The Public Commission to Protect the Legacy of Andrei Sakharov was created through the efforts of Elena Bonner and Dr. Andrei Sakharov’s colleagues and friends.
The year of 1994 - center opening
In May 1991 the Sakharov Foundation organized in Moscow the first International Conference in memory of Andrei Sakharov “Peace, Progress, and Human Rights”. In 1994 the foundation opened the Sakharov archives and in 1996 the Sakharov Museum and multifunctional social center (renamed in 2012 as the Sakharov Center).
The buildings of the Sakharov Center are provided by the Government of Moscow. Their remodeling was made possible thanks to the generous financing by the USAID and the help of ARD/Checci Joint Venture, Freedom House (USA), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the support of Brandeis University (USA) Alan Vines (Great Britain) and Elena Bonner.
In the first years after its creation the Sakharov Center focused primarily on the creation of permanent museum exhibitions, library collection, temporary exhibits, and historical research.
Specifically, for the program “Remembering Oppression” the center created the following unique databases:
- List of the victims of political repressions who were shot and buried in Moscow and the Moscow Oblast 1921-1953.
- Memorials and monuments in honor of the victims of political repression on the territory of the former USSR
- Memoirs of the Gulag and their authors
- Artists and art critics who were victims of repression.
A substantial number of documentary and art exhibitions were organized. All of the exhibitions were in some way linked to the history of the 20th century and its embodiment in the arts; contemporary art was especially prominent. Among the most significant exhibitions were “Art After the Gulag” (2003), “The Last Day of Andrei Sakharov” (2003) “Immunity Against Illusions/ Museum USSR” (2004), “Art—Into Life, or Emergency Exit” (2005),“57 Hours in the Theatre” (2006),“Caution, Religion!”(2003) and “Forbidden Art” (2006).
The exhibition “Caution, Religion!” was vandalized and destroyed by Orthodox fundamentalist only a few days after it was opened. The participants in this pogrom were not punished (the case against them was shortly dismissed); instead, the organizers of the exhibition, including then director of the Sakharov Center Yuri Samodurov, were convicted for “inciting religious hatred”. Yuri Samodurov was convicted under this statute again in 2010 for organizing the exhibition “Forbidden Art”. The curator of the exhibition Andrei Yefremov was convicted as well. The convictions were harshly criticized both in Russia and internationally for being determined before the actual trial. They were also criticized for a multitude of blatant violations of the judicial process, and for ignoring the basic principles of freedom of conscience, speech, and creative expression.
Working with schools
Despite the heavy atmosphere created by government persecution, the Sakharov Center continued its day to day work. One of its primary focuses became education; It organized a annual national competition for history, social studies, and literature teachers called “Lesson on point: The History of Political Repressions and Resistance to Oppression in the USSR” which was held from 2003 to 2012.
Festival of Freedom
In 2003 the tradition of the “Sakharov May Festival” was born. This is an annual demonstration concert in honor of Sakharov’s birthday (21 of May) which is held on the third Sunday in May in the courtyard outside the center. In 2012 the Sakharov festival was expanded to a two day “Festival of Freedom”. In addition to demonstrations and concerts, it included a public debate, a rock concert, art exhibition and theatrical program. A playground for children was also available.
In 2009, the main priority of the Sakharov Center became its robust discussion program. Leading specialists and opinion makers are invited to participate in debates, seminars, public lectures, panel discussions, and gatherings of our cinema club. This attracts a broad range of young, educated, and socially conscious people.
The spirit of discussion is also central to our media project “Talking Heads” (Gogol. TV)”: “For everyone who values meaning over the tiring demands of presentation”. We happily cooperate with documentary theatres and we are also leading a project in modern documentary photography FOTODOC.
We maintain an active presence online, most importantly in the social media through informal blogs where we publish information about our events, and also provide resources and links which we find interesting and useful for understanding the events and processes happening in Russia and the world. The content of these blogs do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Public Commission to Preserve the Legacy of Academician Sakharov (Sakharov Center).