Elena Bonner (1923-2011)
Human Rights Defender
“Until the party truly gives up all its wealth to the people who really earned it, everything, down to the last… rouble, Stalinism will still triumph and it will still triumph until we can establish the principle of sovereignty. Sovereignty of the individual, sovereignty of the family and home, sovereignty of every ethnic group and every state.” (during 1991 speech at the communist party).
The daughter of Gevork Alikhanov, a prominent Armenian communist, the secretary of Comintern, and Ruth Bonner, a Jewish Russian from Siberia, Elena Bonner grew up in the restless, cosmopolitan atmosphere of the Hotel Luxe in Moscow. She mingled with dissident writers and artists, and also helped political prisoners and their families. She was tried for “anti-Soviet agitation” and exiled to Gorky in 1984, the memoirs of which she published in her book Alone Together. Bonner has been a tireless advocate of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue since 1988, campaigned against the war in Chechnya and fought for the human rights and freedom of speech in other disputed regions. She is the founder of the Andrei Sakharov Archives at Brandeis University.
Here is an excerpt of her speech in Oslo in 2009:
“At the age of 14, I was left without my parents. My father was executed, my mother spent 18 years in prison and exile. My grandmother raised me and my younger brother. The poet Vladimir Kornilov, who suffered the same fate, wrote: “And it felt that in those years we had no mothers. We had grandmothers.” There were hundreds of thousands of such children. The writer Ilya Ehrenburg called us “the strange orphans of 1937”. Then came the war. My generation was cut off nearly at the roots by the war, but I was lucky. I came back. I came back to an empty house. My grandmother had died of starvation in the siege of Leningrad. Then came life in a communal apartment, six half-hungry years of medical school, falling in love, two children, and the poverty of a Soviet doctor. But I was not alone in this. Everyone lived that way.
And then there was my dissident years followed by exile. But Andrei and I were together! And that was true happiness. Today, when I am 86, I try to sum up my life every day that I am still alive. And in summing up my life, I can do so in three words. My life was typical, tragic, and beautiful. Whoever needs the details — read my two books, Alone Together and Mothers and Daughters. They have been translated into many languages.”