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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 13, March 14, 2009

The Demise of Solzhenitsyn

Sunday 15 March 2009, by Sheel Bhadra Kumar

Solzhenitsyn, the renowned Nobel Prize winning Russian author and thinker, passed away on August 3, 2008 due to cardiac arrest at the ripe age of 89. He led a bitter but illustrious life in the tumultuous phase in the Russian history of the 20th century. Throughout his life, whether in Russia or outside of Russia in exile, he worked till the last minute reflecting his firm determination, devotion and positive attitude towards life. He was a man of indomitable faith in his ideas and ideals on which he never compromised. He led a lonely, stubborn and combative literary struggle against the heavy afflictions caused by Soviet communism.

He had led an obscure, middle-aged, unpublished high school science teacher’s life in a provincial Russian town. But he came into limelight in 1962 with the publication of his novel, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisonich, describing about life in a prison camp by one of its inmates. He was indebted to the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who had permitted a journal to publish his novel. Khrushchev, being a vehement critique of Stalin, believed that the publication of the novel would further the liberal line in the Soviet Union.

But soon Khrushchev was replaced by hardliners who campaigned to silence the novel’s author. They stopped the publication of his new works and denounced him as a traitor. But their iron grip could not contain Solzhenitsyn’s reach. By that time his works were appearing outside the Soviet Union. His evocative novels like The First Circle, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago exposed the excesses of the Soviet Communist regime. Suddenly he was being compared with Tolstoy, Chekhov and Dostoyevsky. But his books were published not in Russia (then the USSR) but outside Russia. Even after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, his miseries did not lessen.

During Brezhnev’s regime, Solzhenitsyn was charged of anti-Soviet activities and deported from his country and stripped of his Soviet citizenship. He went to Switzerland and after a short stay there he moved to the United States, settling in Cavendish VT. The Western society welcomed him as a heroic fighter challenging Soviet tyranny, but soon he became an embarrassment for the Western liberals.

Solzhenitsyn was not a supporter of Western culture and spirit. He criticised the West for its ‘hedonism’, weak and hollow culture and decadent spirit. He was a fierce nationalist from the core of his heart. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, he returned to his native country after twenty years in exile. At that time Boris Yeltsin was at the helm of affairs in Russia, a country in transition and transformation. Boris Yeltsin had pursued pro-Western foreign policies and introduced pro-Western reforms in Russia. Solzhenitsyn, like many enlightened Russians, did not like Yeltsin’s pro-Western tilt. It was his anguish that compelled him to refuse the highest Russian award conferred on him by the President. He regarded Yeltsin responsible for the Soviet Union’s distintegration and ruin. Solzhenitsyn abhorred Yeltsin. That is why he demanded Yeltsin’s trial when the latter was out of power in the year 2000.

Solzhenitsyn was highly appreciated Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin. He regarded him as the savior of Russian statehood. When Putin decided to attack the omnipotence of oligarchies who had grabbed Russian mineral resources, Solzhenitsyn was highly appreciative of that step. It aptly shows that Solzhenitsyn was a man of vision and commitment. Last year when Putin conferred on him the State Prize for Humanitarian Achievement, Solzhenitsyn received it with all humility and honour. It was just like honouring his vision and principles for which he lived and propagated through his stories, novels, lectures and speeches.

He had a dream of a mighty Russia inhabited by mighty people. Now we are witnessing a resurgent Russia which has awakened from its hibernation and is asserting its strength regionally and globally. n

Dr Sheel Bhadra Kumar is an Associate Professor of Political Science, Government P.G. College, Mahasamund (Chhattisgarh)

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