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Solzhenitsyn is dead

Vladimir Radyuhin

The fierce Russian nationalist denounced West’s “hedonism”

— PHOTO: AFP

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 2007.

MOSCOW: Nobel prize-winning Russian author and thinker Alexander Solzhenitsyn died on Sunday, ending a bitter and illustrious life journey that reflected Russia’s tumultuous history through the 20th century.

Aged 89, Solzhenitsyn died of heart arrest close to midnight at his home on the outskirts of Moscow. His family said he worked till the last minute and died a happy man.

“He wanted to die in summer and died in summer. He wanted to die at home and he died at home. In general I must say Alexander Isayevich lived a difficult but happy life,” his wife Natalya said.

Solzhenitsyn became famous overnight after his story, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was published in 1962. For millions of Russians it became an eye-opener about the horrors of Joseph Stalin’s Gulag labour camps. The story recounted the writer’s own experiences of spending eight years in Gulag for criticising Stalin in a letter to a friend in 1945 after having served in the army throughout the Second World War.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, but none of his novels — The Gulag Archipelago, The First Circle, Cancer Ward and others, which exposed the cruelty of the Communist regime — was published in the Soviet Union. In 1974 he was arrested on charges of “anti-Soviet activities”, deported from the country and stripped of Soviet citizenship.

Solzhenitsyn was hailed in the West as a heroic fighter against Soviet tyranny, but became an embarrassment among Western liberals after he denounced the West’s “smug hedonism” and spiritually weak and decadent culture. He never was a Western-type liberal; he was instead a fierce Russian nationalist. When he returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994 he rejected pro-Western reforms undertaken by President Boris Yeltsin and refused to accept Russia’s highest award Mr. Yeltsin conferred on him on his 80th birthday. “I can’t accept this award from the supreme authority which has brought Russia to ruin,” the writer declared publicly.

When Mr. Yeltsin left office in 2000, Solzhenitsyn called for his trial. By contrast, he was appreciative of Mr. Yeltsin’s successor Vladimir Putin, saying he had taken steps to “save Russia’s statehood.”

Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of the mass sell-off of state assets in post-Communist Russia is said to have influenced Mr. Putin’s views and inspired his attack against the omnipotence of the “oligarchs” who had grabbed Russia’s mineral resources.

Last year Mr. Putin travelled to Solzhenitsyn’s home to present him with the State Prize for humanitarian achievement, thanking him for “all your work for the good of Russia.”

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