Freedom to Read

Photograph of Solzenhitsyn 1994

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

Freedom to Read


We take for granted our freedom to read and to write.  Not so in Soviet Russia.  Imagine the challenges faced by Russian writer Alexzander Solzhenitsyn winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature who’s writing also ‘won’ him arrest by the KGB in 1974 for treason and a one-way trip out of Russia.


In his time, publication decisions were politically determined by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Solzhenitsyn, considered an outspoken political figure by the Writer’s Union, was only briefly approved as a Soviet Writer with support from Khrushchev who considered One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963) an instrument for supporting his political ambitions.

During all the years until 1961, not only was I convinced that I should never see a single line of mine in print in my lifetime, but also, I scarcely dared allow any of my close acquaintances to read anything I had written because I feared that this would become known”.


With the forced retirement of Khrushchev in 1964, Solzhenitsyn’s celebrity status was short-lived. His manuscripts and private archives were confiscated by the Secret Police and he was forced to write secretly while in prison and later under constant police surveillance.  Often writing on scraps of paper and never working on his complete manuscript, The Gulag Archipelago:1918-1956 exposed the complex and brutal Soviet prison system. The manuscript was spirited out to the west by friends in an elaborate under-ground manner and first published in France in 1973.  The book was banned in Russia with possession a treasonous offence.  Anne Applebaum (Death of a Writer) describes how in the winter of 1974 unbound, hand typed manuscripts began circulating around the Soviet Union with readers having only 24 hours to finish the lengthy manuscript before passing it to the next person.


Enjoy our Freedom to read and write.


Anita Madill

Read Anita’s Presentation Summary on Solzhenitsyn

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.

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