International Studies and now president of Russian American Goodwill
Associates. He is the author of: Vladislav Krasnov, Solzhenitsyn and
Dostoevsky (University of Georgia Press).
As Russia celebrates the 80th birthday of her literary giant, the Nobel
prize winning writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, it behooves people in the
West to reflect on the meaning of his enduring message for us.
Didn't he open the eyes of the free world to the evils of Communism? A
resounding Yes, more than any person alive. And he did so at a time when
Communism held sway over one third of mankind and threatened the rest.
Didn't he strengthen the resolve of the United States and the free world
to resist global Soviet expansion? Yes, on a par with such American
patriots as Ronald Reagan. He did it at the time when we needed it most,
after the debacle in Vietnam, when Communist ideas were popular among the
intellectual establishment here. And the "best and the brightest" of the
West falsely denounced both him and Reagan as "trigger happy Cold
Didn't he tell Soviet leaders in 1973 that their political and economic
system was antiquated, that they should set the captive nations free and
start reforms ¬ for the sake of Russia's own spiritual and physical
health? Soviet leaders procrastinated for nearly twenty years, and when,
under Gorbachev, they started their reforms, they did so only in the vain
hope to save Communism.
Didn't he warn Soviet leaders again, in 1990, that Communism is neither
redeemable nor reformable, that instead of trying to save it they ought to
think about how to protect the people from the falling debris of the
collapsing Soviet Union. They ignored his warning again only to see the
Soviet Union collapse the following year.
Of course, he was no lap dog of the "capitalist" West either. He was
not blind to the defects of the West and at times harshly criticized them.
In his 1978 Harvard commencement he railed against crass materialism, the
loss of spiritual compass, and the lack of moral courage in the United
States. And, yes, he deplored the tendency to indulge in excessive
litigiousness and hairsplitting legalism. Now the White House is mired in
exactly the resultant moral morass.
Well, if Solzhenitsyn was provident so many times, it is hardly an
overstatement to call him a modern prophet. Yet, on the threshold of the
3rd millennium the leaders of the two great powers have remained just as
deaf to Solzhenitsyn's warnings as the kings of ancient Israel to Biblical
prophets. But then ¬ one of the two great powers is gone. And both
presidents face an impeachment.
In 1994 Solzhenitsyn left his house in Cavendish, Vermont, and returned
to Russia with his family, exactly as he predicted he would (when he
predicted this in 1974, leading American sovietologists ridiculed him as a
senile old man out of his wits). Although writing, not politics, remains
his main mission, he does not insulate himself from the life of ordinary
Russians. In the past four years he traveled to 26 Russian regions,
visited dozens of cities, and was a guest of honor at over a hundred town
hall meetings. He keeps notes of what people tell him.
What is his verdict on a new post-Communist Russia? "After all those
superficial changes of flags [from a red to tricolor], coat of arms and
slogans, the current regime has not rid itself of the chief trait of its
Communist predecessors: their total isolation from people and total lack
of accountability. [For,] all the democratic appurtenances are being used
to cover up for the greedy oligarchy [that rules the country] and to
deceive world public opinion." He made the conclusion in his latest book
appropriately entitled Russia in Collapse (Rossia v obvale). Not only is
the title appropriate, but the timing was on a cue. The book came out last
May when the financial crisis began to unravel.
Solzhenitsyn is dismayed at how wrongheaded the "reforms" have been and
how much destruction and misery they have left in their wake. Bear in mind
that Solzhenitsyn has been committed to the notions of private property
and free enterprise for a long while. He is convinced, however, that the
reforms advanced neither. They advanced only crime and corruption. He is
appalled at the way the "reforms" were carried out. According to him,
privatization was more like a grand theft of public property, and the
reformers behaved more like neo-Bolsheviks and Stalinists than liberal
democrats as they are known in the West. For, they pursued their reforms
"with the same reckless madness and devastating haste, as the
nationalization in 1917-1918 [by the Bolsheviks] and the collectivization
of farms [by Stalin] in 1930."
And the results? The results are clearly visible in the rule of the
oligarchs, especially the Big Seven that control the banks, the media,
and, often, the executive branch. According to Solzhenitsyn, Berezovsky
boasted that they cast lots for cabinet posts.
What is at stake? Not only whether Russia will be a free-market
democratic country. Not only whether it could safely manage its nuclear
arsenal. At stake is the very survival of the Russian sovereign state and
of the Russian nation as a contributor to global "cultural biodiversity."
It has been reported that, as part of his 80th birthday celebration,
Solzhenitsyn snubbed President Yeltsin by refusing to accept Russia's
highest honor, the order of St. Andrew the Apostle. "I cannot accept an
award from the supreme authority which brought Russia to its current
disastrous state," he said, holding the Yeltsin government responsible for
the current misery of the nation.
In view of the extraordinary contribution Solzhenitsyn made to the free
world and especially to this country, one wonders whether the White House
sent him a birthday greeting. If it did, one wants to see its full text.
In my humble opinion, Solzhenitsyn deserves the highest award of this
land, the Congressional Medal of Honor. But then one is also afraid that
he might snub it as harshly. After all, President Clinton's policy of
exclusive sponsorship of the failed course of Russian reforms has
surprisingly enjoyed a bipartisan Congressional support, every law maker
toeing nicely the two-party line. And who wants to be snubbed by the
stubborn Russian prophet?