Speech by the President of the Luxembourg Forum Dr. Viatcheslav Kantor at the Luxembourg Forum Conference "Moral responsibility of a scientist" devoted to the 100th anniversary of Academician Sakharov. February 25, 2021

Speech by the President of the Luxembourg Forum Dr. Viatcheslav Kantor

at the joint conference of the Luxembourg Forum, Russian Academy of Sciences and IMEMO RAS "Moral responsibility of a scientist" devoted to the 100th anniversary of Academician Sakharov

February 25, 2021

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues!

Greetings to you all! It gives me great pleasure today to see eminent scientists with members of the Luxembourg Forum's Supervisory Board among them.

Last June, at a special session of our conference in preparation for the Andrei Sakharov’s birthday, much was said about the great scholar and public figure, although obviously much more is left to be said.

In addressing the issue of scientists’ moral responsibility, views are expressed that are as diverse as the concepts of morality itself, based on the ideals of justice, duty, honor, care for humanity and loved ones, and other similar values. In reality, these values contradict each other in most situations and are hard to reconcile.

How can all the different values be harmonized? Some 150 years ago, Russian poet and writer Nikolai Nekrasov pondered this issue in his great poem entitled Poet and Citizen. Even in our time, these lines are often cited:

A poet you may well not be,

But be a citizen you must!

And what’s to be a citizen?

A worthy scion of his land.

The word ‘poet’ here can be replaced by any other image; in the context of our conference we can say, "A scholar you may well not be, but since you happen to be a scholar, you are doubly obligated to be a citizen."

However, establishing priorities in the realm of moral responsibility can be a challenging task. Allow me to quote another Russian poet, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who over 60 years ago wrote a poem entitled Career. Part of it goes like this:

In Galileo's day, a fellow scientist
was no more stupid than Galileo.
He was well aware the earth revolved,
but he also had a large family to feed.

The poet comes down hard on Galileo's peers for not supporting him, calling them traitors.

That was six centuries ago. Galileo died of natural causes. But then came the 20th century, when, as we know only too well, people generating ideas or expressing dissent were killed or maimed in Nazi Germany and in Stalin’s purges, along with their families. It is therefore an untenable position to argue that people who put priority on saving the lives of their loved ones lacked moral responsibility.

Andrei Sakharov, by virtue of his upbringing and genius, epitomized the highest standards of moral responsibility, not only for the destiny of his own country, but for the fate of humanity as a whole. He manifested this by calling for a reduction in the threat of humanity’s destruction through nuclear catastrophe, an end to the wars and armed conflicts involving his country, and for strict observance of every person's rights.

In this regard, he represents an ideal for every scientist to aspire to.

In our challenging time, prominent world-renowned scientists continue to sound the alarm that the threat of the actual use of nuclear weapons is growing. This assertion is largely the result of the fact that countries with radical and unstable regimes are gaining possession of these weapons, that the space regulated by international arms control treaties is shrinking, and that nuclear security issues are not a priority in leading countries’ policies.

And what can scientists do in this extremely worrisome environment other than moving the doomsday clock back and forth? At the Luxembourg Forum, we submit specific proposals to the United Nations Security Council and the heads of leading states on urgent decisions and actions to reduce the nuclear threat. While we are thanked for those proposals, actions remain at an insufficient level.

In February of this year, IAEA inspectors confirmed that Iran had begun producing small amounts of uranium metal in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal concluded with the world powers. They found new evidence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran, including traces of radioactive material, essentially suggesting ongoing work on nuclear weapons.

All this is happening in a country where the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps exerts direct influence on military policies, playing a role similar to that of the S.S. in Hitler's Germany.

In this environment, scientists need to use all available means to prevent radical regimes from obtaining nuclear weapons. Otherwise, the prospect of a nuclear holocaust appears to be quite real.

Sakharov gave all of us an unprecedented example of steadfastness and fearlessness in the struggle for a set of principles that were significantly different from those proclaimed by the state. And now that the governments of a number of countries are not making it a priority to prevent a nuclear apocalypse, scientists need to overcome the prevailing perception in the strongest possible way and once again confirm the special nature of the threat, which is the fact that it can make any other threat, from pandemic to economic crisis, irrelevant in the blink of an eye.

Thank you for your attention.