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Bonner, Yelena Georgievna


(b. 1923), human rights activist and widow of dissident Andrei Sakharov; recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy's 1995 Democracy Award.

Yelena Bonner grew up among the elite of the Communist Party. Her mother, Ruth Bonner, joined the party in 1924. Her stepfather, Gevork Alikhanov, was a secretary of the Communist International. Bonner's childhood ended abruptly with the arrests of her stepfather and mother in 1937. She finished high school in Leningrad and volunteered as a nurse during World War II. After the war, Bonner attended medical school and worked as a pediatrician.

Bonner met physicist and political dissident Andrei Sakharov in 1970, at the trial of human rights activists in Kaluga. They married in 1972. Bonner devoted herself to Sakharov, representing him at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 1975. After Sakharov's exile to Gorky in 1980, Bonner became his sole link to Moscow and the West, until her own exile in 1984. In December 1986, Mikhail Gorbachev invited the couple to return to Moscow.

Since Sakharov's death in 1989, Bonner has emerged as an outspoken and admired advocate of democracy in Russia. She joined the defenders of the Russian parliament during the attempted coup of August 1991. She withdrew her support of Boris Yeltsin to protest the war in Chechnya, which she condemned as a return to totalitarianism. Accepting the 2000 Hannah Arendt Award, Bonner denounced President Vladimir Putin's unlimited power, the state's expanding control over the mass media, its anti-Semitism, and "the de facto genocide of the Chechen people."

See also: dissident movement; sakharov, andrei dmitrievich


Bonner, Elena. (1993). Mothers and Daughters, tr. Antonina W. Bouis. New York: Vintage Books.

Bonner, Elena. (2001). "The Remains of Totalitarianism," tr. Antonina W. Bouis. New York Review of Books (March 8, 2001):45.

Lisa A. Kirschenbaum

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