Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) presented by Anita Madill


Photograph of Solzenhitsyn 1994

Crop of Image “Solzenitsyn” by I, Evstafiev is licenced under CC BY-SA 2.5


Anita Madill’s presentation was made even more poignant after hearing of the imprisonment and death of Anita’s Uncle, an Estonian, under the Soviet regime. After the presentation, one of our guests reminded us of the importance to recognize victims of communism worldwide. Click here to learn more about Ottawa’s planned memorial. It begins with a quote by Mr. Solzhenitsyn.

Born in 1918 just as the Bolshevik Revolution was evolving Solzhenitsyn witnessed, chronicled, and challenged Russia’s political and social developments through the rise of Lenin, the Stalinist prison system, collapse of the USSR and the rise of Vladimir Putin. Considered one of Russia’s most powerful writers in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, themes include the dignity of the common man, pride in honest labour, corruption of government bureaucrats, strong belief in moral and spiritual goodness with a sprinkling of Russian proverbs.

Solzhenitsyn is best known for revealing the previously unspeakable terror of the prison system in Stalinist Russia. A decorated Commander of Artillery in World War 11, he was summoned from the war front, charged with anti-Soviet propaganda for criticism of Stalin in letters to a friend, beaten, interrogated and sentenced to eight years of hard labour in 1945. His experience in prison and treatment for cancer during exile formed the base for his writing as well as international recognition with the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”.

Except for a brief period of recognition in 1961 with the communist sanctioned publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich which served Khrushchev’s campaign to discredit Stalin, Solzhenitsyn was denied status as a Soviet Writer. Manuscripts were confiscated by the KGB and he was branded a traitor. He continued to write underground with books and documents secretly spirited to the west by foreign writers and journalists. However, the government seizure of The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956 detailing the complex and comprehensive system of the Russian prison system from Solzhenitsyn’s personal experience of eight years of internment as well as reports, memoirs and letters of 227 witnesses led to his arrest, charge of treason and permanent exile from Russia in 1974.

Most of his twenty year exile was spent in the United States in a Vermont country estate with his second wife Natalya Svetlova and their three sons Yermolai, Ignat, and Stepan. He continued to write books, journal articles and gave a speech at Harvard. While deploring the ‘destruction of the soul’ in Russia he was equally critical of what he considered moral depravity of the western world. Rebuilding Russia: Reflection and Tentative Proposals,1990, was his road-map to return his country to its historic Rus roots and moral core.

Solzhenitsyn’s Russian citizenship was reinstated in 1990. Despite undergoing torture, eight years imprisonment, three years of internal exile, another six years of dangerous underground authorship, rejection as a writer, branding as a traitor and exile to the west, Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994. Formal recognition finally arrived when Vladimir Putin visited his bedside to award Solzhenitsyn The State Prize of the Russian Federation for his humanitarian work. He died in 2008. Western recognition continues. 2014 Giller Prize winner Sean Michaels acknowledges Solzhenitsyn in his recent book, Us Conductors.

Anita Madill 2015, March 24.

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