Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | August 5, 2008

Big Al… Down for the Count

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s repose has been written up and off by many. I loved the Harvard address. The rest… I leave to those among the Russophile literatsi. He was a man of courage, an Orthodox Christian, and he changed the face of Soviet Russia – even as his own grooming seemed challenged enough to leave his agent confused over which … a “cough drop brother” or the lion king… that he represented… or as it turns out… resented.

Today’s Financial Times has two remembrances. The first by John Lloyd and Arkady Ostrovsky mentions details seldom observed elsewhere:

“He said that for all its misery, Russia retained a soul the west had lost. Some 20 years later, he returned to his country, flooded with McDonald’s, Mexican soap operas, quiz shows and little obvious sign of “soul”. His books, such as his great historical cycle, The Red Wheel, on the end of tsarism and the birth of communism, were available but largely unbought.”

He was of course a big fan of Putin’s… and Putin returned the favor. Few others did:

“After a short spell of honors and greetings he became another object of mockery on whom the cynical young could look down and at whom the compromised elders could sneer. He was given a television programme on the main state channel and every other Monday after the evening news, he would discourse at first with guests whom he largely ignored, then in a monologue that was full of anguish, complaint, demands and warnings. The television show was axed. A curt message from the management spoke of falling ratings. The country heading towards a “global market” had no time for the “old fool’s” sermons.”

Wow. Rather makes the puzzle of post-apartheid Nelson Mandella’s description of his dance with the Spice Girls as the “most wonderful experience of his life”… far more understandable. The article quotes Joseph Brodsky from 1995 saying of Solzhenitsyn that “It is another country; you cannot step in the same river twice…” and comments that he did, but “the river had flowed past him”.

The FT’s editorial page has a far kinder view, and a corresponding balance to this first. Here, the editorial writers also offer the first evidence I’ve seen that anyone assigned to the task actually read the Harvard speech.. and quotes specifically mentioning the “destructive and irresponsible freedom of western life, including the excessive burdening flow of information from the media.” Hmmm. On second thought… I’m beginning to recall why they don’t like mentioning this speech.

But more than this, the explanation gives account of his post-Soviet character as fully consistent:

“It takes an obsessive personality to be a brave and constant critic of cruel dictatorships: Solzhenitsyn certaintly fitted that mould, as did that other towering figure among the Soviet dissidents of the 1960’s, Andrei Sakharov, the physicist. Their refusal to compromise made them ill-suited to any post-revolutionary role.”

“Yet Russia under Vladmir Putin has moved back towards the world Solzhenitsyn believed in. He was a nationalist, a fierce defender of the Russian Orthodox church, and convinced of the unique cultural role of Russia in the world.”

We would all have had him our own way. He was his own man. Memory Eternal!

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