Anatoli Marchenko

Sakharov Prize Laureate 1988
marchenko Anatoli Marchenko, one of the former Soviet Union's best-known dissidents, died in Chistopol prison in 1986 of a three-month-long hunger strike for the release of all Soviet prisoners of conscience. He was only 48 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. Having left school at age 8, Marchenko educated himself whilst imprisoned. After his release in 1966, he not only wrote this seminal book, he joined the Soviet human rights movement, becoming one of the founder members of the influential Moscow Helsinki Group in 1975, organizing protests and appeals and authoring a number of open letters, several of which landed him in prison repeatedly.

On the award of the Sakharov Prize to his widow, Larissa Bogoraz, in 1988, Andrei Sakharov himself paid tribute to Anatoli Marchenko, saying, in a message to the EP: 'in My Testimony Marchenko was the first to tell the truth about the post-Stalin labour camps and prisons. His book became one of the foundation stones of the human rights movement in our country. With its spirit of morality through non-violent struggle for justice, with its aspiration towards unconcealed and complete truth, the book aroused the hatred of the organs of repression towards its author. The whole of his subsequent life and his tragic death on Chistopol prison was their way of repaying him for this truth, this steadfastness, for his high moral principle. The achievement of Marchenko's life and  work is an enormous contribution to the cause of democracy, of humanity and of justice'.