“Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence.”
On July 21, 1994, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to Moscow after spending 20 years in exile for writing his book “The Gulag Archipelago,” where he described the horror of the Soviet prison camps.
Solzhenitsyn stepped off at Yaroslavsky Station in Moscow and was greeted by thousands of people with flowers and posters that said:
“Thank you Solzhenitsyn! He described our suffering and exposed the Gulag camps to the entire world.”
The Nobel Prize-winning author personally went through everything that he wrote about. A World War II veteran, he spent eight years in a prison camp after being sentenced for criticizing Joseph Stalin in his private letters. After living through the horror system of Stalin’s labor camps, he was the first author to reveal to the West the dreadful realities of the “Gulag” (Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies).
The author saw his mission as writing about his experience as a Gulag survivor. In 1962, he published his “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” a novel which gives an account of one day in life of a Gulag prisoner.
In 1973, just after his next most famous book, “The Gulag Archipelago,” was released to the West, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by the KGB, charged with treason, and exiled to the United States. The author’s work was labeled anti-Soviet propaganda.
In 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of the USSR, dropped the treason changes against Solzhenitsyn and restored his citizenship.
Shortly after arriving back to Moscow, Solzhenitsyn emerged as a critic of Russia’s post-Soviet government, and particularly, of then-President Boris Yeltsin:
“I have concluded Russia is in a very serious condition. There are groans resounding across the country… Nobody expected the way out of communism would be painless, but nobody expected it to be so painful… The government is not fulfilling its duties.”
Solzhenitsyn has expressed dismay that Russia seemed not to want to listen to him. He was so frustrated with “the modern Russia” that he even rejected the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle (the highest civilian award in Russia) presented to him by Yeltsin in 1998 for “outstanding services to the fatherland and for his great contribution to world literature”:
“I cannot accept an award from the supreme authority which brought Russia to its current disastrous state. Under present circumstances, when people hold hunger strikes in order to get their salaries, I cannot accept this award. Maybe after a long time, when Russia finds its way out of its troubles, my sons will be able to receive it in my place.”
Toward the end of his long life full of struggle and unrest, Solzhenitsyn finally found a political system he could embrace: Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Vladimir Putin about Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
“We are proud that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was our compatriot and contemporary. We will remember him as a strong, courageous person with a great sense of dignity. His activities as a writer and public figure, his entire long, thorny life journey will remain for us a model of true devotion, selfless service to the people, motherland and the ideals of freedom, justice and humaneness.”
His last years the author spent in isolation with his wife Natalya.
The man who survived the revolution, WWII, the Gulag, cancer, KGB persecution, and exile, died on August 3, 2008, at the age of 90.
Solzhenitsyn’s works comprise more than 30 volumes. He was an outstanding writer, a historian, a social philosopher, and the first man who was not afraid to reveal the truth about the monstrous place that was the Gulag.