Solzhenitsyn graphically portrayed Stalinist terror (Obituary)

August 4th, 2008 - 1:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Aug 4 (DPA) Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the Soviet era’s most celebrated dissident writers who died at the age of 89, had been exiled from the Soviet Union for his graphic portrayals of life in the labour camps. The world famous writer and historian, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, had not been seen in public for months, and had reportedly been seriously ill for months. He died following a stroke, according to unconfirmed information.

Solzhenitsyn’s main work was the massive Gulag Archipelago, first published in the West in 1973, which described the years of Stalinist terror using thousands of details and individual cases.

One of Solzhenitsyn’s first, most famous books, a slender volume called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, appeared in 1963 in English at the height of the Cold War.

It was the story of a former prisoner of war caught by the Germans during World War II, then returned home only to face charges of being a spy - a fate that awaited many Russian prisoners of war returning home to the Soviet Union.

The massive Gulag Archipelago, published in the west in 1973 and circulated in samizdat - or underground - publication within the Soviet Union, turned the world’s attention to the horrors of the Soviet gulag system - the agency that administered the penal labour camps.

That book led to Solzhenitsyn’s exile from his homeland in 1974.

In 2007, the one-time exile received the highest Russian government award for his work in the humanities - the Russian State Prize.

In announcing the prize last year, Yury Osipov, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, called Solzhenitsyn “the author of works without which the history of the 20th century is unthinkable.”

Solzhenitsyn did not attend the announcement of the state prize in Moscow’s Kremlin in 2007, but his wife Natalya said the writer hoped his study of Russia’s history would help the country in the future.

The prize, she said, “gives a certain hope, and Alexander Isayevich (Solzhenitsyn) would be glad if that hope came to life, a hope our country will learn the lesson of its self-destruction in the 20th century and not repeat it.”

“It gradually became clear to me, that the line between good and evil lies not between states, not between classes and not between parties, but rather cuts across every human heart,” Solzhenitsyn wrote in one section of Gulag called “Soul and Barbed Wire”.

When the Nobel Prize committee named him the literature winner in 1970, after the publication of “The First Circle”, the Soviet regime denied him an exit visa to receive the prize. After the publication of the “Gulag Archipelago” in the West in 1973, and as it circulated in underground form in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled.

German writer Heinrich Boell was the first to give him refuge, in Cologne.

In the end, Solzhenitsyn settled in the US for the duration of the Cold War.

He returned in 1994 to Russia, where he picked up where he left off - criticising the failed reforms and lack of democracy in his native land, under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin.

But he steadily lost public resonance as he urged Russia to return to its ancient Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. He repeatedly called for Russia to avoid “aping” western democracy without due consideration, and for the country to look to the moral health of its own people.

Solzhenitsyn applauded the policies of former president Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister, and Putin’s support for the ascendency of the Russian Orthodox Church after the years of repression during Soviet times. He also supported Moscow’s controversial policies against the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

His most recent writings about the history of Judaism in Russia and the former Soviet Union however became controversial, as he blamed Russian Jews for helping the rise of the Soviet dictatorship but based his conclusions on questionable sources.

Stalin himself had purged many Jews in the 1930s, and the history of Soviet Jews imprisoned and denied privileges was seen for decades as an outright expression of Soviet anti-Semitism.

Solzhenitsyn had also drawn charges of anti-Semitism during his years of exile and publishing in the United States.

In 2006, Solzhenitsyn was commissioned to pen a ten-part screenplay from “The First Circle”, the 1968 book based on his experiences in a work camp that was a special scientific research facility. The series was broadcast on Russian state television in 2006.

Solzhenitsyn in his book-collecting pursuits assembled more than 50,000 volumes about the emigration of Russians since 1917, now housed in the foundation Russian Diaspora.

At the time of his death, Solzhenitsyn was working on the publication of his life works in 30 volumes, which are to be brought out by 2010 by Moscow’s Vremya publishing house.

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