Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 148

Russians have been reacting to the death of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and paying tribute to the Nobel Prize winning writer and dissident, who died on August 3 at the age of 89.

Interfax quoted former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as saying, “Until the end of his days he fought for Russia, not only to move away from its totalitarian past but also to have a worthy future, to become a truly free and democratic country. We owe him a lot. Like millions of citizens, Solzhenitsyn lived through tough times. He was one of the first to talk about the inhumane Stalinist regime and about the people who experienced it but were not broken” (Interfax, August 4).

Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko party, also conveyed his condolences to Solzhenitsyn’s wife and children. “Solzhenitsyn was not only a great writer, but also an historical figure, thanks to whom millions of people found out what kind of country they lived in,” Mitrokhin said of the author of The Gulag Archipelago and The First Circle. “Solzhenitsyn’s books smashed Stalinism as the reigning ideology of the former Soviet Union, and notwithstanding all of Stalinism’s tenacity, it will never be re-established in our country–thanks, once again, to Solzhenitsyn.” Areseny Roginsky, the historian and founder of the Memorial society, the human rights group set up during the glasnost era to document political repression in the Soviet Union, said that without Solzhenitsyn’s writing, there would not have been a movement to rehabilitate victims of political repression. “Solzhenitsyn’s lessons are for each of us,” he said. “For me, what was always important was his courage in looking at the past; [his] understanding that without knowing the lessons of the past, it is impossible to build the future” (, August 4).

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin said that the struggle for human dignity would always be associated with Solzhenitsyn’s name. “The two most powerful, unifying impulses that impelled a phenomenon like Solzhenitsyn were the struggle for human dignity under difficult circumstances and the fate of Russia,” Lukin said. “Only a personality like that could successfully oppose a monstrous totalitarian machine” (RIA Novosti, August 4).

Stanislav Govorukhin, the film director and State Duma deputy, called for a national day of mourning to mark Solzhenitsyn’s passing. “For me, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a figure of planetary scale,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio. “It is a great loss for society.” At the same time, Govorukhin expressed doubt that the idea of a national day of mourning for Solzhenitsyn would win support within society today. “A year or two or three need to pass before our society understands the true greatness of this citizen and artist,” he said (, August 4).

Interfax quoted an unnamed former high-level Soviet KGB official as expressing regret over the persecution of Solzhenitsyn, who was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974. “Solzhenitsyn turned out to be a great person and a genuine patriot of his country,” the anonymous former KGB official told the news agency. “He could have lived abroad in clover, rich, but he wanted to return to the country because he strongly desired to reform it. And he fulfilled his mission to the end of his days” (Interfax, August 4).

Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), expressed regret that the “democratic reformers” of the 1990s did not listen to Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn “sincerely wanted to see Russia strong and rich, but during the period of the so-called democratic reformers he wound up being completely unneeded,” Zyuganov said. Indeed, it is worth recalling that Solzhenitsyn was as critical of President Boris Yeltsin’s administration and the economic reforms it instituted, above all, the controversial 1990s privatization program, as were the Communists and other members of the anti-Yeltsin opposition. Still, Zyuganov added that Solzhenitsyn’s assessments of the Soviet period were not always “objective.” “I think that in assessing the Soviet epoch he was extremely tendentious and one-sided,” Zyuganov said. “Naturally, his personal tragedy was layered on these assessments, but one shouldn’t extend one’s personal misfortunes and hardships to the creative potential of an entire great country” (, August 4).

Agence France-Presse reported on August 4 that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had sent the Solzhenitsyn family their condolences and that state television had devoted large segments of its programming to the news of his death. The Times of London noted, when Putin awarded Solzhenitsyn the Russian State Prize for work in the humanities last year, Putin remarked on the writer’s contribution to the study of the Russian language but made no mention of The Gulag Archipelago (, August 4).

Solzhenitsyn will be buried in the cemetery of Moscow Donskoy Monastery on August 6, Interfax reported on August 4. Nikolai Balashov, a spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate, told the news agency that the writer had requested five years ago that the monastery’s cemetery be his final resting spot and that Alexius II, the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, had given his blessings to the request.