Russia pays rare tribute to Soviet dissident Sakharov

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Russia on Saturday paid a rare tribute to the seminal role Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov played in exposing communist rights abuses as it marked the 90th anniversary of his birth.

The 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner died in 1989 as the regime he spent nearly three decades fighting went through its final throes.

But the man whom the Soviet system stripped of all titles and banished into exile is primarily remembered in modern Russia as the father of the hydrogen bomb.

There is no statue commemorating Sakharov's humanitarian legacy or state organisation carrying the memory of his name.

The opposition New Times weekly conducted one recent poll showing that most young Russians know of Sakharov as a nuclear scientist -- a fact highlighted in history textbooks.

Yet the state media took the unusual step Saturday of recognising Sakharov as the man who sacrificed his name and career to reveal the frightening faults of the communist system.

"His relations with the authorities were not simple," Channel One television admitted on its website.

"For many, he remains a moral guidepost, an example of honour and principle," it said.

The network -- run by the state just as it had been in Soviet times -- planned to air a special film on Sakharov about his personal life.

The RIA Novosti news agency called Sakharov "one of the leaders of the human rights movement who was strongly opposed to the Soviet forces' invasion of Afghanistan."

It also identified him as someone who bitterly fought the authorities and "laid out the principles of the state's democratic reform."

The anniversary comes at a sensitive political time in Russia. The country is approaching a March 2012 election in which either President Dmitry Medvedev or his mentor Vladimir Putin -- a former employee of the KGB -- can run.

Medvedev has used past occasions to highlight his more liberal leanings and recently played up a link between his modernisation efforts and Tsar Alexander II's decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861.

But neither man mentioned Sakharov's name on the eve of Saturday's anniversary.

© 2011 AFP

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