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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. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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