Saturday, April 29, 2006

Solzhenitsyn Self-Defined

In Western circles where a special knowledge of the history of Russia and the Soviet Union is not a feature of social and political discussion, the name of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is often mentioned alongside those of prominent Soviet era dissidents and writers such as Andrei Sakharov, Joseph Brodsky, Vladimir Bukovsky And others who resisted Soviet power and influenced Western perceptions of the USSR. As the author of The Gulag Archipelago, a massive study of the system of labour camps which existed throughout the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn achieved global fame and renown - it is largely thanks to his efforts that the word "gulag" entered the English vocabulary and became a metaphor for political repression the world over.

To those who have looked somewhat more closely at Soviet history and its aftermath,and who have studied Solzhenitsyn's public statements since his forced exit to the West in 1974, the picture that emerges of this writer and publicist is, however, far from being an unambiguous one. In particular, there is the question of Solzhenitsyn's views on Russian history and society, and his unconcealed hostility towards the values and realities of Western Europe and the United States - a seeming paradox, since it was the West which gave him shelter and support after his exile. In particular, there is is his negative view of Western democracy and democratic procedures, and his unwillingness to accept them as a basis for Russia's future. His antisemitism - the 1917 revolution is seen through the perspective of his writings primarily as a "Jewish terror" - and his admiration of Great Russian imperialism sit uneasily with the image of a pro-democracy hero that was, and still is, cultivated in the West.

Solzhenitsyn's opposition to the Russian authorities' actions in Chechnya, and his proposal that Chechnya be granted independence, expressed a few years ago in an Argumenty i fakty interview, has been based mainly on his apprehension that continuing the war might result in a Russian confrontation with the entire Muslim world, which, he said, should be avoided at all costs. After the 1991 declaration of an independent Chechen republic, he suggested, Russia should have cut its subsidies to Chechnya, sealed its borders, and deported all Chechens residing in Moscow and other Russian cities or treated them as foreigners.

Now, at the age of 87, Solzhenitsyn has made another public statement in the form of an extended interview published in Moskovskie novosti. Here his anti-Western and anti-democratic position is clearly outlined for all to see. "Though it is clear that present-day Russia poses no threat to it, NATO is methodically and persistently building up its military machine into the east of Europe and surrounding Russia from the south," he says. "This involves open material and ideological support for 'colour revolutions' and the paradoxical forcing of North Atlantic interests on Central Asia." The actions of NATO and the United States are more or less indistinguishable, he claims, alluding to the mostly US-run air base at Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan. He accuses Mikhail Gorbachev of capitulating to the West, and extends the accusation to Boris Yeltsin. Putin he praises for making efforts to restore Russia's statehood.

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