neier62_Georges DeKeerleSygma via Getty Images_sergeikovalev Georges DeKeerle/Sygma via Getty Images

The Passing of Russia's First Dissident Generation

Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, who died on August 9, was the last surviving leader of a Soviet human-rights movement that astonished the world, starting in the 1960s. Following Russia's reversion to despotic rule under Vladimir Putin, Kovalev continued, until the end, to hope against hope.

NEW YORK – In November 1988, when the great Russian physicist and Nobel Peace laureate Andrei Sakharov made his only visit to the United States, he asked a few of his fellow human-rights activists to accompany him. One of them was the biologist Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, who died on August 9 at the age of 91.

Sakharov’s visit was a notable occasion. He had been restricted to living in the provincial city of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod) until December 1986, when Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, signaling an easing of state repression, telephoned him to let him know he could return to Moscow.

Many scientific groups, human-rights organizations, and others organized meetings with Sakharov during his visit to the US. I attended a number of these as the executive director of Human Rights Watch. I can still recall that while Sakharov was asked many questions, he generally responded with something like: “Before I comment, I would like to hear Sergei Adamovich’s views on that.”