Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Elena Bonner

Elena Bonner was only 14 when her father, an Armenian who founded the Soviet Armenian Communist Party, was sent to one of Stalin's many prisons in 1937. When she was 15, her Jewish mother was sentenced to the gulags. But it wasn't until the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 that she'd finally had enough: Bonner quit the party and devoted the rest of her life to fighting for democracy and freedom. In that fight she had a staunch ally: the the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, whom she married in 1972. When Sakharov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, it was Bonner who traveled to Norway to accept it; when he was exiled to Gorky, in Western Russia, in 1980, Bonner smuggled his writings out until she was caught and sent to join him. The two would remain partners in protest until Sakharov's death in 1989. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Bonner would continue to campaign for human rights, speaking out against Russian President Boris Yeltsin's invasion of Chechnya and Vladimir Putin's consolidation of power. Although she moved to the U.S. in 2003, Bonner never abandoned the idea of a truly free Russia, even when Russia repeatedly tried to abandon her.