Yelena Bonner, best remembered along with her husband, Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov, as the first couple of the Soviet dissident movement in the 1970s and 1980s, died yesterday in Boston after a lengthy illness. She was 88.
Bonner joined the Communist Party during the Kruschev years but broke with them after the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. She married Sakharov in 1971 and spent a good part of the next two decades being harrassed, imprisoned and exiled in Gorky along with her husband. Yet she always stood her ground and never relented in her criticism of Soviet communism and was Sakharov’s lifeline to the West especially when she accepted Sakharov’s Nobel Prize in Physics when the Soviets refused to let him to travel to Norway. In 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev finally ended the harrassment against Bonner and Sakharov, ended their exile and publicly welcomed them back.
In more recent years, despite her frail health, Bonner became a critic of both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin and also became increasingly outspoken against anti-Semitism.
How many of us, if put into the same position Elena Bonner was put, would have responded so gallantly? This was one brave woman.