Anatoli Marchenko

Sakharov Prize Laureate 1988
marchenko Anatoli Marchenko (1938-1986) was one of the former Soviet Union's best-known dissidents. He died in Chistopol prison of a three-month-long hunger strike for the release of all Soviet prisoners of conscience.

'Marchenko's heroic life and his work represent an enormous contribution to the causes of democracy, humanism and justice,' Andrei Sakharov himself wrote to Parliament, recommending him for the Prize.

Anatoly Marchenko was only 48 years old when he died, but had spent over 20 years in prison and internal exile. The international outcry following his death was a major factor in finally pushing Mikhail Gorbachev, then Secretary General of the Communist Party, to authorize the large-scale release of political prisoners in 1987.

Marchenko became widely known through My Testimony, an autobiographical book on his time in Soviet labour camps and prison, which he wrote in 1966. This book was the first in which the camps and prisons of the post-Stalin period were discussed, awakening the world to the reality that the gulags had not ended with Stalin. Its publication landed Marchenko in prison again for anti-Soviet propaganda, but before being re-incarcerated in 1968, he became openly a dissident publicly denouncing jail conditions for political prisoners. He warned in an open letter to the media in July 1968, that the Soviet Union would not allow the Prague Spring to continue, a prediction which came true in August as Warsaw Pact tanks invaded Czechoslovakia, and Marchenko was once again sentenced to prison and then to exile.

The greater the repression though, the stronger Marchenko's will to act. He became one of the founders of the influential Moscow Helsinki Group, together with Andrei Sakharov and current leader Ludmilla Alexeyeva. This was founded in 1976 to monitor the Soviet Union's compliance with the human rights clauses of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the first act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, meant to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West.

He was arrested and jailed for the last time in 1980 for publishing his final book, To Live like Everyone. He did not live through his 15-year sentence. His widow, Larissa Bogoraz, herself an activist and a Sakharov Prize nominee, received his Prize in 1988.