The Yuri Orlov File

Yuri Orlov

Human Rights Legend and Distinguished Physicist Turns 90

Founder of Moscow Helsinki Group Endured Gulag and Exile, Still Teaches at Cornell

Web Posting Includes KGB and Politburo Documents on Orlov’s Dissident Career, Declassified U.S. Reports on the Human Rights Challenge Orlov Faced, Complete Orlov Physics Publications List, First Publication in English of Orlov’s Historic 1956 Speech Criticizing the Communist Party, and Video of Orlov-Reagan White House Meeting from 1986

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 482
Posted August 13, 2014

Compiled and edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Tom Blanton
Editorial assistance by Anya Melyakova and Allison Brady
Special thanks to Sidney Orlov

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or

Washington, D.C., August 13, 2014 — Marking the 90th birthday of the human rights legend and distinguished physicist Yuri Orlov, the National Security Archive at George Washington University ( and the Memorial Society in Moscow ( today posted online an extensive collection of formerly secret Soviet and U.S. documents on Orlov’s career as a Soviet dissident, including the first English-language translation of his historic 1956 speech at his physics institute in Moscow, and his 1976 founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The posting also includes Orlov’s complete publications list as a still-active research physicist, his 2009 Vernon Hughes Memorial Lecture at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and never-before-published video of Orlov’s White House meeting with President Ronald Reagan in 1986.

The documents include detailed KGB, Communist Party Central Committee and Politburo documents, together with parallel CIA and White House assessments, that suggest how courageous human rights activism by leading Soviet scientists like Orlov as early as 1956 fundamentally threatened the repressive Soviet system while setting the stage for the late 1980s perestroika/glasnost period that ended the Cold War.

The documents show that through organizing the Moscow Helsinki Group (with Lyudmila Alexeyeva) in May 1976, Orlov institutionalized human rights monitoring based on the principles in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, signed by the USSR and even published in Pravda. Multiple other Helsinki groups soon followed throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, contributing enormous intellectual capital to the international human rights movement and to social processes that culminated in the peaceful revolutions of 1989. The Moscow Helsinki Group remains the oldest still-functioning human rights organization in Russia, and Orlov subsequently became honorary chairman of the International Helsinki Federation.

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