Andrei Sakharov

Andrei Sakharov photograph by Yousuf Karsh, Camera Press London

Andrei Sakharov - The inspiration for the prize

The Russian physicist Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov (1921-1989), who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, first came to prominence as the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb.

Concerned at the implications his work had for the future of humankind, he sought to raise awareness of the dangers of the nuclear arms race. His efforts proved partially successful with the signing of the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.

In the USSR, Sakharov was seen as a subversive dissident. In 1970, he founded a committee to defend human rights and victims of political trials. Despite increasing pressure from the government, Sakharov not only sought the release of dissidents in his country but became one of the regime's most courageous critics, embodying the crusade against the denial of fundamental rights. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts.

Andrei Sakharov was exiled to Gorky by the Soviet authorities in order to limit his contacts with foreigners. There he learnt that the European Parliament intended to create a prize for freedom of thought which would bear his name. From his exile he sent a message to the European Parliament in 1987, giving his permission for his name to be given to the prize and saying how moved he was. He rightly saw the prize as an encouragement to all those who, like him, had committed themselves to championing human rights.

The prize that bears his name goes far beyond borders, even those of oppressive regimes, to reward human rights activists and dissidents all over the world.

Celebrating Andrei Sakharov's centenary

This year, 2021, the European Parliament is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Andrei Sakharov's birth.

To mark this special occasion, the President of the European Parliament, David Maria Sassoli, wrote a foreword to the guidebook for the exhibition Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov - Person of the Era, which includes the following tribute:

'Today, in a world where authoritarian regimes and populist forces undermine fundamental freedoms and question the principle of human rights, the moral symbol represented by Andrei Sakharov constitutes a source of inspiration for all those that fight for democratic principles.'

This exhibition was created by the Sakharov Centre in Moscow and the Andrei Sakharov Research Centre in Kaunas (Lithuania), in cooperation with the European Parliament. The European Parliament contributed in particular with panels illustrating the Sakharov Prize. The exhibition is being hosted across Europe, including the following locations:

Vilnius, 6-28 May 2021

Bremen, 20 May - 16 July 2021

Prague, May 2021

Kiev, May 2021

Kaunas, 21 September - 22 October 2021

Odessa, 8-18 December 2021

Kaunas, May 2022

It will also visit more than 70 venues in Russia, and will be displayed at the European Parliament later in the year.

The European Parliament's Archives Unit has also created an online exhibition about the Sakharov Prize, available on the European cultural heritage website as of 21 May, Andrei Sakharov's birthday.