Monday, August 04, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn R.I.P. 1918-2008

I first encountered Solzhenitsyn in March 1976 when his BBC interview was broadcast on Bill Buckley's Firing Line TV Show. I was enthralled with the courage and dynamism of the man who had been through so much. I soon after bought a copy of his book, The Gulag Archipelago.
I still have it today. Dog eared, underlined, with faded highlighting it is still one of my most prized processions. It is not that it was autographed or a special edition of which it is neither, it was one of the great pieces of literature that nurtured the spirit of liberty within me as a young man . It was another "different drummer" that resonated a responsive chord of freedom within my heart as did Thoreau's essay, Civil Disobedience when I was still in high school.
I have often thought that if one has not lived through tyranny one can learn about its many faces by reading the writings of those who have survived its cruelties. As government injustices compound in our world and in our own country, we are blind and foolish if we can not learn from those who already experienced the horror and warn us of the signs of eminent tyranny.
Solzhenitsyn gives us a chilling view into what could lay before us if we don't learn from his past. Thus I give you my favorite Solzhenitsyn quote from the The Gulag Archipelago as a warning and a reminder that uncontrolled government is an evil that must be contained with whatever means is necessary to contain it.
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst; the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!”

- Mit

Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (image from 1994)
Solzhenitsyn had been ill for years

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed Stalin's prison system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile, has died near Moscow at the age of 89.

The author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who returned to Russia in 1994, died of either a stroke or heart failure.

The Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure in recent years.

After returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity.

His intransigence, his ideals and his long, eventful life make of Solzhenitsyn a storybook figure, heir to Dostoyevsky
French President Nicolas Sarkozy

His son Stepan was quoted by one Russian news agency as saying his father died of heart failure, while another agency quoted literary sources as saying he had suffered a stroke.

He died in his home in the Moscow area, where he had lived with his wife Natalya, at 2345 local time (1945 GMT), Stepan told Itar-Tass.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to the writer's family, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy described him as "one of the greatest consciences of 20th Century Russia".

"His intransigence, his ideals and his long, eventful life make of Solzhenitsyn a storybook figure, heir to Dostoyevsky," he said in a statement.