Matthew Joseph, Russia – July 2010

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I have been in Moscow since June 9th, 2010, and working with the Andrei Sakharov Foundation.  I am working in the Sakharov Archives.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90’s, the archives that held the KGB files, and other sensitive information, were opened to the public, and Sakharov’s wife, Elena Bonner, was able to gain copies of a large amount of documents.  Andrei Sakharov was a physicist in the Soviet Union, and is sometimes referred to as the father of the Thermo-Nuclear bomb for the Soviets.  As you can imagine, he was greatly rewarded for doing this and lived among the elite of the Soviet Union.  However, Sakharov was a man with a conscience.  He became one of the most well known Soviet dissidents, pushing for the implementation of Human Rights, and warning against the dangers of a nuclear war.  After his first international publication entitled “Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom” Sakharov was banned from all military involved projects and was eventually sent into isolation to the city of Gorkii.

I have been able to read through these documents and work with them every day.  It is interesting to compare how they treated other people as oppose to how they treated Sakharov.  They almost feared him it seems.  Also, just see the bureaucracy cycle that these documents would go through, because no one wanted to take the responsibility or steps.

Recently, on July 12th, the former director of the Sakharov Museum was taken to trial for an art exhibition that they had inside of their facility.  It was very interesting to try and attend the court proceedings.  At first I was not even allowed through the gate to the courtyard of the court.  Standing on the street with 100 other people, all trying to fight their way in, was very unique.  There were clashes of rhetoric between the Russian Orthodox supporters and the human rights activist community.  I was asked several times what side I belonged to, and I explained that I was a neutral by stander, just trying to see how the system works.  Finally, after standing on the street for almost one and a half hours, they changed the guards at the gate, so I walked up to the new guard, explained that I work with the Sakharov Foundation, showed him my visa where it shows them as the sponsoring organization, and got in to the courtyard.  The only thing that was better about being inside the gates was that I didn’t have to listen to all of the quarrelling, and watch the local Orthodox Church parade around the block with their cross carrier in front.  After waiting there for another hour, they finally came out of the court.  The verdict was guilty, charged with “having incited hatred towards believers”, and they were fined around $13,000.

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I have had the opportunity to go to Red Square, Tretyakov Gallery, VDNKH (look this up in Wikipedia, it is really an interesting place), Cosmonaut Museum, Arbat, Ismailovskii Park, Tsarizevno, Kosmolenskii Park, to attend Sa’ban’tue (a harvesting holiday for a lot of the Muslim Minorities in Russia) and to little city’s around Moscow, such as Tyla where they have an Arms Museum as well as a Samovar Museum (tea pot like things) and Ya’snaya Polyana, where Lev Tolstoy lived and wrote his works.  I was lucky enough to come to Moscow the year that they set their record for highest summer temperature, 98 degree’s plus humidity.  And you always thought that Russia suffered from snow all year long.  I am greatly enjoying the time and opportunities.  Moscow is a great city.Austronaut-Museum

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