Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Fallen Hero

Like many others, I know Solzhenitsyn through his many works exposing the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union for what it was. Since his death a few days ago, the paeans have been many both in the mainstream media and the blogosphere. But The New York Sun had a column on the 8th that paints a somewhat different picture.

For Solzhenitsyn, a survivor of the gulag system enforced by the KGB, the desire to see Russia as a great nation, its eternal spirit superior to the West's vulgar materialism, found him in old age supporting an ex-KGB man, Mr. Putin, who once said that there is no such thing as an ex-KGB man and who sees the Soviet Union's collapse as the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of modern times. Despite this, Solzhenitsyn seemed to accept Mr. Putin as a "good dictator," whose silencing of his critics enhances Russia's soul.

The author, Nina Khrushcheva, goes on to describe Solzhenitsyn's later works in his old age as "backward, preachy, conservative, unenlightened, at times even anti-Semitic..." She concludes with the following which quite adequately sums up a legacy:

The tragedy of Solzhenitsyn is that, although he played a mighty role in liberating Russia from totalitarianism, he had nothing to say to ordinary Russians after their liberation, except to chastise them. Yet perhaps one day we Russians will escape our false dreams, and when that day comes, the heroic Solzhenitsyn, the Solzhenitsyn who could never surrender or be corrupted, will be restored to us. But it is now that we need that Solzhenitsyn most. For to paraphrase Milton's "Paradise Lost" on the illumination of Hell, "Solzhenitsyn's is no light, but rather darkness visible."

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