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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Echoing Santayana, Solzhenitsyn Says Neo-Soviet Russia Repeats the Mistakes of the Past

Did you ever see that movie "Bridge on the River Kwai"? Remember the part at the end where the British officer suddenly snaps out of his ego-induced haze to realize that he's been helping the Japanese win World War II? It seems that, at long last, Alexander Solzhenitsyn is experiencing a similar moment of clarity.

International Herald Tribune reports that Solzhenitsyn has confirmed what LR has been saying for months now, that Russia has placed itself into exactly the same social position it was in in 1907, whilst placing itself in the same political position it was in in 1927. In other words, the worst of all possible worlds. It can't last forever, maybe not even very long.

Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn warns in the preface to a newly republished article that Russia is still struggling with challenges similar to those of the revolutionary turmoil of 1917 that led to the demise of the czarist empire.

The article — which will appear Tuesday in the influential government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta — analyzes the roots of the February revolution 90 years ago that forced the abdication of the last czar, Nicholas II, and helped pave the way for the Bolsheviks.

"It's all the more bitter that a quarter of a century later, some of these conclusions are still applicable to the alarming disorder of today," Solzhenitsyn wrote in a preface to the article first written in the early 1980s.

Solzhenitsyn's wife, Natalya, said it should serve as a reminder to Russia's political class about the dangers stemming from the huge gap between the rich and the poor, and the stark contrast in lifestyle and moral attitudes in the glitzy Russian capital compared to the far less prosperous provinces.

"Alexander Isayevich is deeply worried by this gap," Natalya Solzhenitsyn told a news conference Monday. "It's necessary to pay attention to that. If the government fails to do that, consequences would be grave."

In addition to being printed in the widely read, half-million-circulation newspaper, the article — first published in Russian in a magazine in 1993 — will be also republished as a separate pamphlet under the title "Thoughts On The February Revolution" and sent to officials across Russia, Rossiyskaya Gazeta's editor Vladislav Fronin said.

"People from the (Ear Eastern) Chukotka region to the Kremlin would be able to read it," he said.

Natalya Solzhenitsyn said her husband wrote the article for one of the volumes of "The Red Wheel," the 10-volume saga about the Russian Revolution that he finished in 1990 and considers his most important work. The article has been published repeatedly, but never in such wide circulation, she said.

Solzhenitsyn was arrested for criticizing Stalin in a letter he wrote during World War II, when he was serving as a front-line artillery captain, and spent seven years in a labor camp in Kazakhstan and three more years in internal exile.

He drew on his ordeal in the short novel "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," published in 1962 during a backlash against Stalin. Soon after, however, his writing was suppressed. Subsequent works — including the three-volume "The Gulag Archipelago" (1973-78) — were written in secret and only published abroad.

Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, and four years later was expelled from the Soviet Union.

Returning to Russia in 1994 to find a country in deep disarray, Solzhenitsyn's dismal view of 1990s Russia, along with his nationalism and hope for a resurgence of his country, has aligned him with President Vladimir Putin, who has presented his time in office as a period of recovery following economic and social turmoil at home and weakness on the world stage that Russia suffered after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The 88-year-old has appeared infrequently in public in recent years, and he is believed to be ailing. In rare print or broadcast interviews, he has lamented the state of Russian politics and the government, but also has praised Putin despite the president's KGB background.

His wife said Monday that Solzhenitsyn had a high opinion of the Kremlin's increasingly assertive foreign policy.

"He believes that many right steps have been taken in the foreign policy field, and Russia has regained its weight," Natalya Solzhenitsyn said.


Penny said...

How can one reconcile Solzhenitsyn's approval of Putin and Russia's foreign policy?

I won't.

Personally, I think Solzhenitsyn has lost his moral stature, and, I'm saying that as one that has read and loved his works. He's a very flawed man in many ways. When he lived in the US he remained uncurious and aloof. His 1979 Harvard speech was an embarassment:

He failed to examine and did not understand a free press, captialism and democracy as an everyday process. Democracy seemed far too messy for him.

For a man who suffered and was shaped by the gulag, it's pitiful that he doesn't denounce Putin.

FrankHew said...

Spot on, Penny! Can you believe how he could be so aloof among Americans, who so graciously welcomed him? And now we're supposed to listen to him just because he spend eight years in a concentration camp and survived cancer. You're right: He's lost his moral stature. He hasn't had any, in fact, since that infamous Harvard speech.

You're right: He is too flawed to be taken seriously anymore. Sell-out. Maybe he'll think fondly back on American when Putin sends him to another Gulag!