Yuri Orlov

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For the zoologist, see Yuri Alexandrovich Orlov.
Not to be confused with the fictional lead character in the film Lord of War.
Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov
Orlov photo.jpg
Orlov, Summer 2008
Native name Юрий Фёдорович Орлов
Born (1924-08-13) 13 August 1924 (age 91)
Moscow, USSR
Nationality Russian
Fields nuclear physics
Alma mater Moscow State University, Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics
Known for participation in Soviet atomic bomb project and for human rights activism with participation in dissident movement in the Soviet Union
Notable awards Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize (1986), Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service (1995), Andrei Sakharov Prize (APS) (2006)
Children sons Dmitri, Aleksandr,[5] Lev[1]
from Orlov’s interview for Ekho Moskvy, 11 May 2011

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Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov (Russian: Ю́рий Фёдорович Орло́в, born 13 August 1924, Moscow) is Professor of Physics and Government at Cornell University, a former Soviet dissident,[6] Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist,[7] a founder of the Moscow Helsinki Group[8] and Soviet Amnesty International group.[9]

Early career[edit]

Yuri Orlov was born into a working-class family on 13 August 1924 and grew up in a village near Moscow.[10] His parents were Klavdiya Petrovna Lebedeva and Fyodor Pavlovich Orlov.[1] In March 1933, his father died.[1]

From 1944 to 1946, Orlov served as an officer in the Soviet army.[11] In 1952, he graduated from the Moscow State University and began his postgraduate studies at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics[12] where he later worked as a physicist.[11]

In 1956, Orlov nearly lost his career of scientist due to his speech at the party meeting devoted to the discussion of the report On the Personality Cult and its Consequences by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the CPSU. Then he publicly called Stalin and Beria "killers who were in power" and put forward the requirement of "democracy on the basis of socialism."[13] For the pro-democracy speech he made in 1956, he was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and fired from his job.[11]

"What is the meaning of life? That your soul may outlive your remains in something sacred and should escape decay... I have again looked at, added up, corrected, and sized up what I have been doing during these last years and have seen that this is good..." (Yuri Orlov, 1980)[14]

Orlov obtained the Candidate of Sciences degree in 1958 and the Doctor of Sciences degree in 1963.[12] He became an expert on particle acceleration.[10] In 1968, he was elected a corresponding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences[10] after he found work at the Yerevan Physics Institute.[11] In 1972, he came back to Moscow and worked at the Institute of Terrestrial Magnetism.[11]


In September 1973, when Pravda published a statement by a group of prominent academicians denouncing Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov's anti-patriotic activity, Orlov decided to support him, while recollecting the well memorized spells of the 1930s, in which some academicians demanded the death penalty for others already arrested; later some of these academicians themselves were arrested; and then third academicians, still alive, publicly demanded the death penalty for them.[13][15]:163[16]:161

Defending academician Sakharov, Orlov on 16 September 1973 wrote "About the Reasons for the Intellectual Backwardness in the USSR and Proposals to Overcome It (Open Letter to L.I. Brezhnev)"[17] which appeared in underground samizdat circulation.[18] The Western press published the letter in 1974[19] but its publication in the Russian press took place only in 1991.[20]

In the early 1970s, the article by Yuri Orlov "Is a Non-Totalitarian Type of Socialism Possible?" also appeared in underground samizdat circulation.[18]

In 1973, he was fired after becoming a founding member of the first Amnesty International group in the Soviet Union.[11]

In May 1976, he organised the Moscow Helsinki Group and became its chairman.[11] He ignored orders to disband the Moscow Helsinki Group when the KGB told him the group was illegal.[21] The KGB head Yuri Andropov determined, "The need has thus emerged to terminate the actions of Orlov, fellow Helsinki monitor Ginzburg and others once and for all, on the basis of existing law."[22]

On 10 February 1977, Orlov was arrested.[23][24][25] In March 1977, Orlov published the article about his arrest "The road to my arrest."[26] In a closed trial, he was denied the right to examine evidence and to call witnesses.[27] The courtroom was filled with some 50 individuals selected by authorities, while supporters and friends of Orlov, including Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, were barred from entering because there was no room.[5] Orlov's summation was interrupted many times by the judge and the prosecutor and by spectators who shouted "spy" and "traitor."[5] Orlov at the trial argued that he has a right to criticize the government and a right to circulate such criticism under the freedom of information provisions of the Helsinki Accords.[5] Orlov also argued that he circulated such information for humanitarian, not subversive, reasons.[5] On 15 May 1978, Orlov was sentenced to seven years of a labour camp and five years internal exile for his work with the Moscow Helsinki Group.[28] US President Jimmy Carter expressed his concern over the severity of the sentence and the secrecy of the trial.[29] Washington senator Henry M. Jackson said, "The Orlov trial, and the Ginzburg and Shcharansky incarcerations, are dramatic cases in point" when discussing Soviet breaches of law.[30] The US National Academy of Sciences has officially protested against the trial of Orlov.[31] In the summer of 1978, physicists at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory created Scientists for Sakharov, Orlov and Shcharansky (SOS), an international movement to promote and protect the human rights of scientists.[32]:547 An initiator of SOS was American physicist Andrew Sessler,[33] its chairman was Prof. Morris Pripstein.[34]

Scientists at CERN have spoken out against the imprisonment of Orlov for "disseminating anti-Soviet propaganda".[35] 43 physicists have called off Soviet trips to protest the jailing of Orlov.[36]

For the first year and a half, Orlov was imprisoned in Lefortovo Prison, then Perm Camp 35 and 37.[14] In Perm Camp 37, he has mounted three hunger strikes to make the prison authorities return his confiscated writings and notes.[37] Two articles written by Orlov in the camp were smuggled and published abroad.[38] On 5 July 1983, the Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky sent the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov a letter asking for the release of Orlov to Austria, but it was intentionally left without an answer.[39] The New York-based Helsinki Watch issued a statement about Orlov’s health deterioration, "He has frequent headaches and dizzy spells, resulting from an old skull injury. He suffers from kidney and prostate inflammation, low blood pressure, rheumatic pains, toothaches, insomnia and vitamin deficiency. Medical care in the labor camp is extremely inadequate."[40]

In 1984, Orlov was exiled to Kobyay in Siberia and was allowed to buy a house with a garden.[25]

Emigration and US citizenship[edit]

On 30 September 1986, the KGB proposed to expel Orlov from the Soviet Union after depriving him of his Soviet citizenship and met with approval from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[41]

Orlov, 24 November 1986

On 10 December 1986, Orlov was awarded with the Carter-Menil Human Rights Prize of $100,000.[42]:253

Since 1987, Orlov has been working at Cornell University as a scientist.[43]

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Orlov studies particle accelerator design, beam interaction analysis and quantum mechanics. He has authored and coauthored numerous research papers,[44] articles on human rights,[45] and an autobiography, Dangerous Thoughts (1991).[46]

On 18 July 1991, he and Elena Bonner wrote an open letter about the fact that Soviet army and special troops have been systematically deporting thousands of Armenians from Azerbaijan to Armenia.[47]

In 1993, Orlov received American citizenship.[48]

In 1995 the American Physical Society awarded him the Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service.[49] In 2005 he was named the first recipient of the Andrei Sakharov Prize, awarded biennially by the American Physical Society to honor scientists for exceptional work in promoting human rights.[49][50]

Orlov participated in two documentaries about the Soviet dissident movement, the 2005 one They Chose Freedom[51] and in the 2014 one Parallels, Events, People.

He is a member of the Human Rights Watch Asia Advisory and Academic Freedom Committees, and member of the Honorary 25th Anniversary Committee, Global Rights.


  1. ^ a b c d "Орлов Юрий Федорович (р. 1924)" [Orlov Yuri Fyodorovich (b. 1924)] (in Russian). The Sakharov Center. 
  2. ^ Shultz, George (1993). Turmoil and triumph: my years as secretary of state. Scribner's. p. 749. ISBN 0684193256. 
  3. ^ "Yuri Orlov vows he'll continue to struggle for human rights". Kentucky New Era. 2 October 1986. p. 48. 
  4. ^ "The Yuri Orlov file". The National Security Archive. 
  5. ^ a b c d e "Orlov receives maximum sentence" (PDF). The Ukrainian Weekly. LXXXV (113). 21 May 1978. p. 2. 
  6. ^ Human Rights Watch World Report 1990. Human Rights Watch. 1991. p. 296. 
  7. ^ Zellick, Graham (March 1980). "The criminal trial and the disruptive defendant". The Modern Law Review 43 (2): 121–135. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1980.tb01585.x. JSTOR 1094873. 
  8. ^ "CERN turns its back on Yuri Orlov". New Scientist 91 (1260): 4. 2 July 1981. 
  9. ^ Garelik, Glenn (21 July 1991). "Science and dissidence". The Washington Post. 
  10. ^ a b c Wren, Christopher (1 October 1986). "Man in the news; a pragmatic crusader: Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Andrei Sakharov and human rights. Council of Europe. 2010. p. 151. ISBN 9287169470. 
  12. ^ a b Marshak, Robert (September 1978). "Orlov dissident trial in perspective". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 34 (7): 5–6. doi:10.1080/00963402.1978.11458529. 
  13. ^ a b "Юрий Орлов. Человек-легенда" [Yuri Orlov. Legendary man]. Radio Liberty (in Russian). 15 August 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Bailey, Anthony (25 April 1983). "Orlov". The New Yorker: 40. 
  15. ^ Orlov, Yuri (1991). "Chapter thirteen. In the opposition". Dangerous Thoughts. Memoirs of a Russian Life. New York: William Morrow and Company. pp. 163–176. ISBN 0688104711. 
  16. ^ Орлов, Юрий (1992). "Глава тринадцатая. В оппозиции" [Chapter thirteen. In the opposition]. Опасные мысли: Мемуары из рус. жизни [Dangerous Thoughts. Memoirs of a Russian Life] (in Russian). Moscow: Аргументы и факты. pp. 161–174. ISBN 585272002X. 
  17. ^ De Boer, S. P.; Driessen, Evert; Verhaar, Hendrik (1982). Biographical dictionary of dissidents in the Soviet Union: 1956–1975. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 405. ISBN 9024725380. 
  18. ^ a b Shifman, Mikhail (ed.) (2015). Physics in a mad world. World Scientific. p. 445. ISBN 9814619310. 
  19. ^ Orlov 1974.
  20. ^ Aksyutin & Medvedev 1991.
  21. ^ Potok, Chaim; Slepak, Leonid; Slepak, Vladimir; Slepak, Alexander; Slepak, Maria (2010). The gates of November. Random House Publishing Group. p. 175. ISBN 0307575519. 
  22. ^ Snyder, Sarah (2011). Human rights activism and the end of the Cold War: a transnational history of the Helsinki network. Cambridge University Press. p. 73. ISBN 1139498924. 
  23. ^ Shanker, Thom (1 October 1986). "Bitter Siberian ordeal ends at last for Yuri Orlov". Bangor Daily News. p. 9. 
  24. ^ Bailey, Anthony (19 September 1977). "Defending Yuri Orlov". The New Yorker: 29. 
  25. ^ a b "Yuri Orlov Soviet dissident group founder". UPI. 6 October 1986. 
  26. ^ Orlov 1977.
  27. ^ Oshins, Eddie (3 February 1983). "The case of Yuri Orlov". The New York Review of Books. 
  28. ^ "CERN scientists speak out for Orlov". New Scientist 94 (1306): 473. 20 May 1982. 
  29. ^ Carter, Jimmy. "Presidential Documents. Week Ending Friday, May 26, 1978". Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Jimmy Carter, 1978, Book 1: January 1 to June 30, 1978. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. p. 938. 
  30. ^ "U.S. senators seek Nobel for Helsinki groups" (PDF). The Ukrainian Weekly. LXXXV (159). 16 July 1978. pp. 1–2. 
  31. ^ Ziman, John (January 1979). "Science and human rights". Index on Censorship 8 (1): 41–44. doi:10.1080/03064227908532880. 
  32. ^ Pripstein, Morris (1991). "Sakharov, scientists, and human rights; a personal recollection". Andrei Sakharov: facets of a life. Atlantica Séguier Frontières. pp. 546–548. ISBN 2863320963. 
  33. ^ Sessler, Andrew (1 April 1995). "Physicist and the eternal struggle for human rights". Bulletin of the American Physical Society 40 (2). 
  34. ^ Lipkin, Harry (2013). Andrei Sakharov: quarks and the structure of matter. World Scientific. p. 11. ISBN 9814407437. 
  35. ^ "A small word in support of Orlov". New Scientist 96 (1331): 341. 11 November 1982. 
  36. ^ O'Toole, Thomas (3 June 1978). "Orlov's sentence causes third U.S. physicist group to cancel Russian trip". The Washington Post. 
  37. ^ "Concerns about Orlov's health". New Scientist: 592. 22 November 1979. 
  38. ^ Orlov (1981, 1982)
  39. ^ About the letter by Bruno Kreisky to the Soviet leader Yuri Andropov
  40. ^ Eaton, William (1 October 1986). "Harshly treated: Orlov: ordeal for symbol of dissent ends". The Los Angeles Times. 
  41. ^ "О лишении гражданства и выдворении из СССР Орлова Ю.Ф." [On the deprivation of citizenship and expulsion of Orlov Yu F. from the USSR] (PDF) (in Russian). Soviet archives collected by Vladimir Bukovsky. 30 September 1986. 
  42. ^ Hochman, Steven (2009). "Carter center". In Forsythe, David (ed.). Encyclopedia of human rights. Vol. 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 252–256. ISBN 0195334027. 
  43. ^ Lanier, Alfredo (5 June 2000). "Network forms to aid scholars at risk". The Chicago Tribune. 
  44. ^ Orlov's research papers
  45. ^ Orlov 1979; Orlov & Bethell 1987; Orlov (1988a, 1988b); Gottfried & Orlov 1989; Birman, Lizhi & Winick 1994
  46. ^ Sessler, Andrew (1991). "Book Review: Dangerous Thoughts: Memoirs of a Russian Life". Physics Today 44 (11): 92. Bibcode:1991PhT....44k..92S. doi:10.1063/1.2810325. 
  47. ^ Bonner & Orlov 1991.
  48. ^ "Curriculum vitae of Yuri Orlov" (PDF). Cornell University. Archived (PDF) from the original on 3 October 2015. 
  49. ^ a b Gold, Lauren (14 November 2005). "First Andrei Sakharov Prize for human rights goes to Cornell physicist and former Soviet gulag prisoner Yuri Orlov". Cornell Chronicle. 
  50. ^ 2006 Andrei Sakharov Prize Recipient
  51. ^ В Москве прошла презентация фильма "Они выбрали свободу" об истории диссидентов в СССР [In Moscow, the presentation of the film They Chose Freedom went off] (in Russian). NEWSru.com. 1 December 2005. 

Some publications[edit]

Further reading[edit]