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Solzhenitsyns Troubled Prophetic Mission

Published: August 8, 2008 (Issue # 1397)




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Alexander Solzhenitsyn, viewed as a political figure, was very much in the Russian conservative tradition a modern version of Dostoevsky. Like the great 19th-century writer, Solzhenitsyn despised socialism and yet had no use for Western culture with its stress on secularism, freedom and legality.

I recall very well the commencement address that he delivered 30 years ago at Harvard University. The audience of students and their families, aware of Solzhenitsyns anti-communism, expected a warm tribute to the West and especially to the United States, which had granted him asylum. Instead, they were treated to a typical Russian conservative critique of Western civilization for being too legalistic and too committed to freedom, which resulted in the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. At the bottom of this censure lay a wholesale rejection of the course of Western history since the Renaissance.

Solzhenitsyn blamed the evils of Soviet communism on the West. He rightly stressed the European origins of Marxism, but he never asked himself why Marxism in other European countries led not to the gulag but to the welfare state. He reacted with white fury to any suggestion that the roots of Leninism and Stalinism could be found in Russias past. His knowledge of Russian history was very superficial and laced with a romantic sentimentalism. While accusing the West of imperialism, he seemed quite unaware of the extraordinary expansion of his own country into regions inhabited by non-Russians. He also denied that Imperial Russia practiced censorship or condemned political prisoners to hard labor, which, of course, was absurd.

In some of his historical writings, there are strong hints of anti-Semitism, a common vice of writers of the conservative-nationalist persuasion in Russia. In his 1976 book, Lenin in Zurich, Solzhenitsyn depicts Helphand-Parvus as a slimy character who tries to persuade Lenin to return to Russia to start a revolution. In August 1914, published in its expanded form in 1984, he explains the assassination of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin by Dmitry Bogrov, a thoroughly assimilated Jew, on the alleged grounds that Stolypins plans for a better Russia promised nothing good for the Jews. Fortunately, in his last book published in 2003, Two Hundred Years Together, an ambitious history of Jews in Russia, Solzhenitsyn unequivocally exonerated the Jewish people of responsibility for the Russian Revolution.

It is difficult to envisage what kind of a Russia Solzhenitsyn wanted. He was not unhappy about Russias loss of its imperial possessions, yet he did not favor a state based on law and democracy. He disliked what he saw after his return to Russia in 1994, during Boris Yeltsins rule, but, strangely enough, he came to terms with then-President Vladimir Putin and his restrictions on both democracy and the free market. Although Solzhenitsyn vehemently rejected communism, in many ways he retained a Soviet mind-set. Anyone who disagreed with him was not merely wrong but evil. He was constitutionally incapable of tolerating dissent.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 2


Gatchina Palace Park Museum will host its second annual Night of Light, an impressive audio-visual show across the night sky. Tickets are 600 rubles ($16).


If graphic design is more your thing then check out Illustration Day, where you will be able to visit an exhibition, attend lectures by professionals and even show experts some of your own work. The event starts at noon at Zona Deystvia, 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The entrance fee is 350 rubles ($10).



Sunday, Aug. 3


History lovers shouldnt miss the chance to see reenactments of World War I battles in Pushkin at noon. Besides exciting war scenes, visitors can enjoy live music, historical costumes, an equestrian show and a fancy-dress parade starting from the Moscow gates.


Garage Sale, the popular and growing flea market where nothing is priced over 500 rubles ($14.11), starts today at noon in Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Be sure to get in early to score a bargain. Entry costs 50 rubles ($1.40)



Monday, Aug. 4


Continue the working week with a calm and steady mind with a free yoga lesson at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoyed store at 23A Vladimirsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Aug. 5


Visit The Romanov Dynasty doll exhibition today, where more than fifty porcelain dolls depicting Russian rulers, and made by Olina Ventzel, will be on show. The exhibition continues through Aug. 31 in Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Naberezhnaya.



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