Tuesday, August 05, 2008

R.I.P. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1918 - 2008 (August 3, aged 89)

This last Sunday, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Russian: Алекса́ндр Солжени́цын) a true hero of the Soviet people, passed away from a heart attack (DN writes about it here, SVT Rapport obituary here).

While serving in the Soviet Red Army Solzhenitsyn was in a kafkaesque fashion convicted to an eight-year labour camp prison term for making some joking comments about the communist leaders in a private letter to a friend. After serving that term, he still had to suffer an "internal exile" which among other things meant he just barely could get his lifethreatening cancer treated.

During his internal exile after the prison term, with risk for his own life, Solzhenitsyn wrote and managed to smuggle his monumental work The Gulag Archipelago (Russian: Архипелаг ГУЛАГ) out of the Soviet Union. For this he was awarded with the 1970 Nobel prize in literature.

"The Gulag Archipelago" describes the structure of, and life in the Soviet prison system. The Gulag is the name of the prison system as such, forming an "archipelago" with it's "islands" present throughout Soviet cities and in the wilderness in the form of detention prisons, transit prisons and labor camps. The book is so detailed that the cruelty of the system becomes almost surreal and humorous as Solzhenitsyn paints an impressive picture of the thoughts, characteristics and actions of these people who in any other situation would be considered innocent but in the Soviets were prisoners.

It is said to have been Solzhenitsyn's biggest dream to get to return to his beloved Russia as a free man, and so now he finally did. He was particilarly respected by the Swedish people because of how he with a gentle hand enlightened us of the scale of a genocide well comparable to the holocaust.

(Update: Since this is a blog and not some official obituary, I'll allow myself to mention another Estonian hero in the struggle for freedom from the Soviets. Andres Küng (his old homepage here) was a Swedish-Estonian journalist, writer, politician and entrepreneur who wrote numerous books about the nation, being exiled from his parents' Estonia up until just before it gained independence. I have been reading his book Estonia Awakens (the book seems only available in Swedish translation) and it is amazing to read Estonian history told "from the middle" so to say (the book is published in -88). Because, as is said in The Black Swan, history is written going backwards)

(Update 2: Apologies for that my bio of Solzhenitsyn may be both incomplete and erroneous, I'm simply no expert. Also it's worth reading La Russophobe that writes, next to a picture of Solzhenitsyn shaking hand with "president" Putin:
As Viktor Sonkin, a literature columnist for The Moscow Times Context section and a teacher of cultural studies at Moscow State University, wrote in his column: "Solzhenitsyn understood Western society only superficially, and many alarming things he said about it were simply not correct. Rejecting the 'bad totalitarianism' of the Soviet type, Solzhenitsyn was promoting a kind of 'good totalitarianism,' as if there were such a thing in the world."
Solzhenitsyn may have been a hero, but lately he seems to have been generally considered unfit by many. Maybe not so strange considering the experiences he suffered)

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