Hundreds file past coffin of Nobel author Solzhenitsyn

August 5th, 2008 - 9:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 5 (DPA) Hundreds of mourners stood hunched in unrelenting rain Tuesday to pay tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the former dissident Russian author and Nobel laureate, lying in state at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow Guards of honour stood at the four corners of his coffin, heaped in long-stemmed flowers deposited in twos by Muscovites who filed passed the open bier, crossing themselves.

A wall-sized, black-and-white portrait of Solzhenitsyn was flanked by a Russian flag at the end of the academy’s vast hall that reverberated with all the trappings of a state funeral.

The former exile but deep patriot had prayed to die at home, his widow Natalya said. He died following a heart failure at the age of 89 late Sunday.

She and Solzhenitsyn’s son held vigil occasionally walking over to lay a hand on the edge of the coffin or bend down to kiss it, Russian television images showed.

Solzhenitsyn, who unflinchingly chronicled the horrors of the Soviet Gulag camps, remains a controversial figure - almost irrelevant to the next generation sucked -forward in Russia’s head-long resurgence.

Some mourners held copies of his first revolutionary expose on life in the camps where he spent eight years, “One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich”, miraculously allowed to be published in 1962 by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

“I was 10-years-old but I remember it as a shock. It was a revolution, it was all anybody could talk about for weeks,” said Masha Lipman, an analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

But by the 1970s, Russians could once again be jailed for owning a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s four-volume Gulag Archipelago, a mass incriminating documentation of the forced labour camps spread along the rail network from the Arctic Solovetsky Islands to Kazakhstan.

Solzhenitsyn’s recognition with the Nobel literature prize in 1970, historians suspect, saved him from being re-incarcerated and in an unprecedented move he was expelled by KGB chief Yuri Andropov.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin led condolences, calling his death “a heavy loss for the whole of Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, were among those who remembered Solzhenitsyn as Russia’s moral conscience.

Russian newspapers mourned Solzhenitsyn’s passing with blitzing headlines: “A Prophet Has Died In His Homeland”, wrote popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda while tabloid Tvoi Den led in bold black “Alexander The Great”.

On his homecoming in 1994, after 20 years in exile first in Switzerland and the US state of Vermont, Putin awarded Solzhenitsyn Russia’s highest laurel in a pomp-filled Kremlin ceremony honouring his devotion to the “motherland”.

A devout Russian Orthodox Christian, distinguishable in his last years by a full beard that covered his thinning face, Solzhenitsyn will be buried according to his wishes in the 16th-century Donskoy Monastery in Moscow at 9.00 a.m. Wednesday.

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