Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

1. Obituary: Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89

Solzhenitsyn had been ill for years

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed Stalin's prison system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile, has died near Moscow at the age of 89.

The author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who returned to Russia in 1994, died of either a stroke or heart failure.

The Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure in recent years.

After returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity.

His son Stepan was quoted by one Russian news agency as saying his father died of heart failure, while another agency quoted literary sources as saying he had suffered a stroke.

He died in his home in the Moscow area, where he had lived with his wife Natalya, at 2345 local time (1945 GMT) on Sunday, Stepan told Itar-Tass.

Mrs Solzhenitsyn told Moscow Echo radio her husband lived "a difficult but happy life".
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to the writer's family, a Kremlin spokesperson said.
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms led to the end of communism in the country, said Solzhenitsyn played a key role in undermining Stalin's totalitarian regime.

His works "changed the consciousness of millions of people", Mr Gorbachev said.

Prisoner, patient, writer

Solzhenitsyn served as a Soviet artillery officer in World War II and was decorated for his courage but in 1945 was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter.

He spent the next eight years in the Soviet prison system, or Gulag, before being internally exiled to Kazakhstan, where he was successfully treated for stomach cancer
Publication in 1962 of the novella Denisovich, an account of a day in a Gulag prisoner's life, made him a celebrity during the post-Stalin political thaw.

However, within a decade, the writer awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature was out of favour again for his work, and was being harassed by the KGB secret police.

In 1973, the first of the three volumes of Archipelago, a detailed account of the systematic Soviet abuses from 1918 to 1956 in the vast network of its prison and labour camps, was published in the West.

Its publication sparked a furious backlash in the Soviet press, which denounced him as a traitor.

Early in 1974, the Soviet authorities stripped him of his citizenship and expelled him from the country.
He settled in Vermont, in the US, where he completed the other two volumes of Archipelago.

While living there as a recluse, he railed against what he saw as the moral corruption of the West.

Scathing of Boris Yeltsin's brand of democracy, he did not return to Russia immediately upon the cHis homecoming in 1994 was a dramatic affair as he travelled in slowly by land from the Russian Far East.

Years later he was embraced by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, who presented him with Russia's State Prize.

There was significant irony in the fierce critic of Soviet repression being hailed by a former senior officer of the KGB, says the BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow.

Mr Putin described Solzhenitsyn's death as a "heavy loss for Russia".

Solzhenitsyn's latter works, which included essays on Russia's future, stirred controversy.

In 2000, his last major work Two Hundred Years Together examined the position of Jews in Russian society and their role in the Revolution.


Born: 11 December 1918
1945: sentenced to eight years for anti-Soviet activities
1962: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich published in Russia
1970: Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature
1974: First volume of The Gulag Archipelago published
13 February 1974: Exiled from his native Russia
1994: Returns to Russia
3 August 2008: dies in Moscow

In Quotes

In quotes: Death of Solzhenitsyn
World leaders, literary figures and campaigners have been giving their reactions following the death of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

(Solzhenitsyn's death) "is a heavy loss for the whole of Russia. We are proud that Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was our countryman and contemporary. We will remember him as a strong, brave person with enormous dignity.

Like millions of citizens, Solzhenitsyn lived through tough times. He was one of the first to talk about the inhumane Stalinist regime and about the people who experienced it but were not broken.

Until the end of his days he fought for Russia not only to move away from its totalitarian past but also to have a worthy future, to become a truly free and democratic country. We owe him a lot.

His intransigence, his ideals and his long, eventful life make Solzhenitsyn a hero from a novel, an heir to Dostoyevsky. He belongs to the pantheon of world history. I pay homage to his memory.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn will be remembered as an intellectual who provided us with a testimony, tinged with suffering, and a sharp and accurate view on the tragedies of 20th Century totalitarianism.

Russia today lost a great fighter for truth, who worked to reconcile the Russians with their past. The world loses a figure of freedom.

Solzhenitsyn was the mirror of the tragic, ironical Russian history. It's a rather complex, confused, tragic and ironical fate to go through all these tragic tribulations and to end being almost officially accepted by the gang that was at the birth of most powerful denouncing.

This is a huge blow to Russia, a blow to each of us. We have grown under the sign of Solzhenitsyn.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn always said what he thought, without caring about the consequences, without caring how the authorities would react. He was not afraid to be alone.

He embodied resistance and truth. He embodied discourse at a time when no-one wanted to hear. He was the person who dared to point the finger when no-one wanted to see what was happening.

(Solzhenitsyn) is of such size that it can't be exaggerated and therefore we can't discuss him as an artist or a political figure. He is like a saga's hero - something much more than can be compared with real human possibilities.

It's a great loss for our family. It's also a loss for the country. He was always really happy he returned. This is his home.

(He) had a difficult but happy life. We were very happy together

In his own words
Please note: this is the final passage of the book

Shukhov felt pleased with life as he went to sleep. A lot of good things had happened that day. He hadn't been thrown in the hole. The gang hadn't been dragged off to Sotsgorodok [settlement]. He'd swiped the extra gruel at dinnertime. The foreman had got a good rate for the job. He'd enjoyed working on the wall. He hadn't been caught with the blade at the searchpoint. He'd earned a bit from Tsezar that evening. And he'd bought his tobacco.

The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one.

Just one of the three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days of his sentence, from bell to bell.

The extra three were for leap years.

People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert...

It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defence against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.

It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept. Life organised legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.

extract from his speech at Harvard University, 1978

I can't say that I wrote my books in order to open the eyes of the West to what had been going on in the East. Above all, I wrote all my books for the benefit of my own people, for the Russians, because [we] ourselves don't know our own history.

It's not just the West that doesn't know our history; we ourselves have lost it. Recent events, both pre- and post-Revolutionary, have been wiped out. The documents have been burnt, the witnesses killed. So I have been working to reconstruct the truth, all the truth about my own country, and this is what I have done primarily for our own people's benefit.

speaking to the BBC in 1974

I never doubted that communism was doomed to collapse, but I was always afraid of how Russia would emerge from that communism and at what price. I know I am coming back to a worn-out, discouraged, shell-shocked, Russia which has changed beyond recognition and is wandering about in search of itself.

from a speech in Vladivostok on his return to Russia from exile in 1994

The main achievement is that Russia has revived its influence in the world.

But morally we are too far from what is needed. This cannot be achieved by the state, through parliamentarianism...

As far as the state, the public mind and the economy is concerned, Russia is still far away from the country of which I dreamed.

his last TV interview, 2007

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