Alexander Solzhenitsyn Author Gulag Archipelago One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The Late Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Acclaimed Nobel Prize-Winning Author Of `One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago

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The Late Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The death of a Nobel Prize-winning author who’s works (notably “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) graphically detailed the horrors of Soviet Stalin era labour camps illustrates the complexity of Russian politics.

He was born in December 1918 – his father had been an officer in the Russian Imperial army of the defeated Tsar but died in a hunting accident when his mother pregnant. His mother briefly inherited his fathers farm before it was commander ed by the new communist government and turned into a collective farm. In his early years he with three brothers and a sister lived in poverty and they were not allowed to talk, for fear of reprisals, about their fathers soldiering before the revolution. His mother died at the outbreak of WW2 during which time he served as the commander of a recognizance unit in the Red Army.

In February 1945 in a letter to a friend he critised Stalin (who he described as the’ whiskered’ one) for the war tactics he was employing. He was arrested for founding a hostile organisation and after a being beaten by interrogators sent to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow. Six months a KGB tribunal found him in absence of the offence and sentenced him to eight years in a labour camp followed by ‘internal’ exile. He was imprisoned in several works camps.

In 1950 he was sent to a camp for political prisoners in Ekbastuz Kazakhstan. Whilst there he worked as a bricklayer and miner and his experiences where the ingredients of his later work ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. In 1953, Solzhenitsyn sentence was commuted to internal exile for life at Kok-Terek in southern Kazakhstan.

A year later he was diagnosed as having cancer which though it early killed him went into remission when he was admitted to hospital. His experiences raised made him privately question the merits of Marxism and lean towards the comforts or religion.

After leaving hospital he was allowed to return Western Russia where he taught maths in a secondary school whilst secretly writing ‘the Soul and Barbed Wire (The Gulag Archipelago) and ‘A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’. The latter was published

in 1962, and sanctioned by then President Khrushchev who as a fervent critic of the former Stalinist era instructed that the book be studied in schools.

The publication of this book sparked political debate hitherto unknown under Soviet communism. This liberal window in post war communist Russia came to a close in 1964 when communist hardliners ousted Khrushchev from power who policies they felt had humiliated Communist Russia ever since the Cuban missile crisis.

The new regime under Leonid Brezhnev Alexander was effectively the old guard of Stalinism who were advocates of debating societies and Solzhenitsyn fell out of favour. In 1965 the KGB confiscated many of his manuscripts. Overnight he became a dissident. In 1968 two of his works The First Circle and The Cancer Circle were smuggled out to the west and published. These works, coupled with A Day in the Life of Ivan Denitovich were to result in his nomination in 1970 for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He chose not to collect his prize for fear of not being able to return to Russia. In 1973 another work ‘August 1914’ (an account of Russia’s involvement in the outbreak of WW1) was published in the west and once again he was visIted by the KGB who confiscated further manuscripts.

In late 1973 the first part of The Gulag Archipelago was published in France. The book which describes the arrest, methods of interrogation and judicial system that Gulag’s victims endured from 1917 to the early sixties was in the west hijacked politically as an example of the present ills communism. The Soviet response to this reaction was to view Solzhenitsy as a national traitor and on February 12th 1974 he was arrested for treason. The following day he was exiled to the West first. After a short stay in Sweden he moved to the United States. During his time in the US he critised the American pre-occupation with democracy and materialism.

After the fall of communism and during the Glasnost era of Gorbachev his exile was lifted and in 1994 he was welcomed back to Russia as a national hero.

Two ex presidents with very differing political outlooks Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladmir Putin (a former KGB officer) paid tribute to his life. The latter praised Solzhenitsyn for giving “an example of truly selfless devotion and of unselfish service to the people, the fatherland” and for championing “the ideals of freedom, justice and humanism.” The words of Putin may have been reciprocation for Solzhenitsyn comment in 2007 that Putin had restored Russia’s authority in the world.

When a former KGB prisoner is rendered the honour of ‘lying in state’ in Moscow and given a military gun salute at his funeral by a regime with a history aligned to the KGB questions have to be asked. One can only conclude that legacy of Solzhenitsyn may be that Russian politics however diverse are ironically united by a fundamental pride in nationalism.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn works were founded on his experiences of Stalinism which he felt betrayed soviet culture. They were not as the Russian authorities first thought and act of treason. Nor were they an endorsement of the Western society he was exiled to. He was simply an historian who’s fate determined through his vacation became part of history



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