The world scientific community stood firmly by one of its most distinguished members through along, deeply troubled period. This support could not protect him entirely from unjust and brutal treatment, but without it his name—perhaps his life—would have been obliterated and forgotten. This experiment in international scientific solidarity succeeded after all, and should now be considered established practice in all such cases.
What will Sakharov do now? He says he will take up again the physics research he was forced to abandon seven years ago. Even in his sixties, a scientist of Sakharov's quality may still have something to contribute to scientific knowledge. But the real issue for the last 15 years has not been his actual scientific work. It has been his freedom to do this work in collaboration with others.
Andrei Sakharov is only one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scientists in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and other countries who have been excluded from their laboratories and cut off from all normal scientific work as a punishment for nonconformist words and actions. He has made it clear that his return to his institute and to the Soviet Academy is of little significance unless he is accompanied back into scientific employment by other, less- illustrious victims of injustice.
Having publicly returned Sakharov to his position within science, the Soviet authorities will find it difficult to suppress or ignore his opinions on these and many other issues. Even though he does not have any official base for political action, he can speak boldly in the language of conscience and know that the authorities will have to listen to him seriously. Indeed, some parties within the Soviet government—including Mikhail Gorbachev himself—may be glad to have this independent voice expressing the views of many other intelligent Soviet citizens on nuclear war, Afghanistan and other issues.
But the importance of Sakharov's views on such matters is not that they are particularly wise in themselves; it is that he should be able to voice them in public debate. In the end, the test of the importance of Sakharov's release will be whether the voices of a multitude of less- eminent people in many other walks of life are also heard and heeded. Sakharov's main concern will thus continue to be the campaign for freedom of speech and other human rights within the Soviet Union.
Quite apart from its general political effects, this campaign is connected with the place of science in Soviet society. Through his unrivaled standing as a scientist, Sakharoy is now in a position to lead the scientific community against the constraints and illegalities that hamper Soviet sciences—including ethnic and ideological discrimination in education and employment as well as arbitrary restrictions on travel and communication. This could be his real power base for a sustained attack on the repression that corrupts all Soviet intellectual life.
Sakharov's reputation as a scientific genius protected him originally from the full repressive force of the regime and won him the support of the whole scientific world. He must now be counting on this support as he makes a contribution to science and humanity far greater than any he could ever make to theoretical physics.