Spotlight: From Soviet Scientist to Artistic Agitator

Edward Lozansky


Edward Lozansky was an esteemed scientist working at Moscow's Institute of Atomic Energy, where the Russian nuclear bomb was developed. Two books of his, one on physics and one math text, were widely published in the Soviet Union. Lozansky gave private lessons to promising Soviet scientists and taught physics at the prestigious Moscow Military Academy. Wealthy by Soviet standards, he was married to the daughter of Ivan Yershov, a high-level Russian general.

During the '70s, Lozansky grew more and more dissatisfied with his lack of liberty in the Soviet Union and followed closely the problems of Andrei Sakharov, the well-known Russian scientist and dissident. When Lozansky began mentioning Sakharov in his classes at the Moscow Military Academy, the KGB paid him a visit. He quit referring to Sakharov's human rights activities but not his contribution to science.

It was a time of great conflict for the physicist. Though threatened by the KGB, he distributed underground copies of Solzhenitsyn's works to his friends and students. He told REASON in his classic Russian accent, "I knew I had no chance to leave even though I hated the Soviet system, for obvious reasons, so I tried somehow to accommodate the Soviet system, not to get involved with any political activities. But at some point I realized that you cannot be quiet when some people are arrested just for expressing their opinions."

In 1975, Lozansky was fired from his positions at the Institute of Atomic Energy and the Moscow Military Academy. He decided that it was time to leave, but his father-in-law threatened him; it would not be good publicity for a two-star general if his daughter were to leave the Soviet Union. When Lozansky was threatened with arrest, he went to friends of his in the American press who let it be known that they would blow the whistle if he was not allowed to leave.

Then, according to Lozansky, the government gave him permission to leave but asked his wife to wait until after her father was promoted to a three-star general. Lozansky did not believe the story, but his wife trusted her father; so he left for the United States in 1976. Shortly thereafter, his wife's father was promoted but Lozansky says that General Yershov told his daughter "just to forget about it."

Lozansky found work at the Laser Fusion Lab at the University of Rochester in New York. "At first I wanted to stick to science to occupy my mind and time," Lozansky says, but when the Soviet government refused to consider letting his wife and daughter leave the USSR, he started a publicity campaign.

By 1979, Lozansky's story had lost news value. He flew to Stockholm and convinced all of the Nobel Laureates that year to sign a petition addressed to Brezhnev requesting his wife and daughter's release. The world press picked up his story for the first time.

The number-one French TV talk show had him as a guest. Having previously arranged that his wife would be near a telephone, he called her in the middle of the show. With her portrait on the television screen, she sobbed and told the French people about the injustice of her life in Russia. The dramatic appearance stirred up more European support for Tatyana Lozansky's release. Even the French Communist Party demanded that she and her daughter be allowed to join Lozansky.

Edward Lozansky was beginning to attract attention not only to his situation but to his ability to get publicity for a cause. Others concerned about Soviet mistreatment of individuals approached him, asking him to expand his activities. "I realized maybe they are right," says Lozansky. So last year he formed the Committee to Free Andrei Sakharov. "Most human rights groups," he noted, "just circulate petitions, but I think I know Soviet society pretty well. They always try to use music or ballet or literature or athletes to show how great Soviet society is.…this is one of the most important propaganda tools, the arts. So I decided to turn…this area against them."

He moved to Washington, D.C., found work at George Mason University in Virginia, and gathered a list of prestigious supporters. On May 19, 1981 (Sakharov's birthday), his organization put on a concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington with an orchestra made up entirely of exiled and escaped Soviet musicians.

Now, he proposes to build a memorial and cultural center in the Washington area dedicated to the millions of Russians and Eastern Europeans who have died at the hands of Communist tyranny. Ernst Neizvestny, a much-praised Russian artist now living in New York, has drawn up plans for a monument. It is to be a massive concrete slab covered with "an endless series of numbers corresponding to concentration camps in the worldwide communist Gulag." In the middle of the field, a young woman weeps beside a tomb.

All Edward Lozansky and his committee need for the project is about $7 million, offered voluntarily. But then, Lozansky admits that he has a flair for public relations work.

Walking through a hotel lobby in Denver, Lozansky talked about his nine- year-old daughter and wondered if he would ever see her again. He had just written to his wife and told her to stop waiting for him, that there was no more reason to hope that they would ever see each other again. If the memorial is built in Washington, the young woman crying over the cruelty of an inhuman government will have a special meaning for him.

(Those interested in Lozansky's project can write to Sakharov International Committee, P.O. Box 9422, Washington, D.C. 20016.)

Patrick Cox is a free-lance writer.