Daniel Johnson on Elena Bonner


Read my article on Jewish Ideas Daily, One Woman Army, about Elena Bonner, who died last week aged 88. It describes my meeting in 1991 with the widow of Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet scientist and dissident, and provides a portrait of this indomitable campaigner for human rights.

If Soviet society had not been so riddled with anti-Semitism, Russians would have made Bonner the first president of the Russian Federation instead of Yeltsin, after Sakharov died in 1989. Unlike Yeltsin, she wasn’t corrupt, she wasn’t a drunk and she had never been a member of the Soviet nomenklatura. So she had learned the leassons of 70 years of Communism, as an apparatchik like Yeltsin never could. Even if she had not been Jewish, however, she would never have been elected because there were (and are) only a handful of people who thought like her in Russia. This does not alter the fact that, in the absence of her husband, Bonner alone had the courage to restore Russia’s moral stature, to undertake a proper reckoning with the Stalinist past, and to open up the country to Western ideas about Liberty and the rule of law. By choosing the safe option, the man on the tank rather than the Jewish babushka, Russians set their country on a course under Putin which has proved to be disastrous.

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