Can physicists be successful politicians?


Even before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975, Sakharov was a world-famous dissident of the Soviet Union. His wife Jelena Bonner accepted the award for him because Sakharov was not allowed to travel to Stockholm. One of the demands of his speech, which was read out by his wife, was the release of all political prisoners worldwide.

The exceptional scientist had a successful career in physics. He was part of the team of scientists who developed the Soviet depth charge, which was successfully tested in 1953. His paper on baryon asymmetry in the universe, published in 1967, is one of his most important scientific works. In it he formulated three necessary conditions for the emergence of the dominance of matter over antimatter: deviations from the thermal equilibrium in the expansion phase of the hot universe, the violation of CP invariance and a violation of the baryon charge conservation.

In other important works he dealt with “induced gravity, i. H. with the idea that gravity (and here in particular the general theory of relativity) is not “fundamental” in the sense of particle theory, but arises from quantum field theory, just as hydrodynamics, for example, results from molecular physics.

As an exceptional physicist, Sakharov was initially able to lead a privileged life in the Soviet Union. He used these privileges, such as access to foreign literature and to state and party leaders, to critically question the consequences of his actions - and to ask the leading politicians to do the same. He called for a ban on nuclear tests at a very early stage and, in return, quarreled with party and state leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Sakharov also campaigned for the politically persecuted during the Brezhnev period. His manifesto "Thoughts on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Spiritual Freedom" made him world famous in 1968 - and a renegade in the eyes of the government. His demands are as relevant today as they were then: There can only be lasting peace if the USA and the USSR (now Russia) come closer to one another. The resources must be handled carefully, the planet must not be looted. And only freedom of expression and freedom of the press ensure that people do not allow themselves to be seduced by propagandists and seducers.

In 1980 Sakharov was exiled to Gorky, from where Gorbachev did not bring him back until 1986. Shortly before his death in 1989, he was able to present his political ideas as a member of the People's Deputies Congress. His draft constitution, on which he worked until the end as a member of a parliamentary commission, was to become his legacy.

On Sakharov's 100th birthday, the University of Bremen is showing an exhibition about the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate on the boulevard in front of the State and University Library. History students translated and edited 21 steles from the Sakharov Center in Moscow. In eight sections, Sakharov's life is presented in short texts and large-format photos as well as original sources: One panel each explains the historical background and a second Sakharov's life stages.

The steles can be seen from May 21 to July 16, 2021, but can also be viewed online in a PDF version. The exhibition will open at the same time in Moscow and Kaunas and will also be shown in the European Parliament. The "Bremer" version moves on to Berlin and Cologne.

"Despite or perhaps because he had devoted the most productive years of his life to secret nuclear weapons research, he then embodied the unity of science, politics and morality like no other," writes Michael Schaaf. "He realized that in the nuclear age, apolitical and immoral science as well as unscientific and immoral politics can lead humanity into the abyss."

Physik Journal / University of Bremen / Alexander Pawlak

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