To mark the 95th anniversary of the birth of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

posted 12 Dec 2013, 11:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 12 Dec 2013, 11:12 ]
9 December 2013

Source: (info)
Ninety-five years have passed since the birth of the writer, historian, Soviet political prisoner and author of The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was born on 11 December 1918 in Kislovodsk. In 1941 he graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathematics at Rostov University. Between 1939 and 1941 he also took correspondence courses with the Moscow Institute of History, Philosophy and Literature.

In winter 1941-42 he worked as a driver in the army. He completed artillery training, and between November 1942 and February 1945 he served at the front as commander of a reconnaissance artillery battery.

In 1945 he was arrested in connection with letters he had written to a school friend that had attracted the attention of the censors, mainly because of his irreverent comments about Stalin, and also on the grounds of his unpublished stories and essays.

He was sentenced by a Special Council of the NKVD to eight years in a labour camp.

He spent the first part of his sentence in mixed correctional labour camps, but was transferred in 1946 to a “sharashka” – part of a network of scientific research institutes run by the Ministry of State Security – to work with other prisoners as a mathematician.

In 1950 he was sent to special camps for political prisoners such as the Ekibastuz camp in Kazakhstan, where he worked as a labourer, bricklayer and foundry foreman.

He was not released after completing his prison term, but sentenced to “perpetual exile” in Kok-Terek in Kazakhstan.

During his exile he taught mathematics and physics in a village school and began to write in secret.

In April 1956 those sentenced under Article 58 were released from exile, and in June he travelled to Moscow.

From August 1956 he worked as a village teacher in the Vladimir Region and was rehabilitated.

In June 1957 he moved to Ryazan and worked as a physics and astronomy teacher in School No 2. He continued to write in secret.

To view photos of Solzhenitsyn collected by, click HERE 

In 1961 he entered into the literary mainstream. In November 1962 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a story about the camps, was published in the magazine “Novy Mir” and became a sensation.

He continued to write about the time of the mass terror in the USSR and set up an entire network for the secret storage of his manuscripts and archives, as well as for the collection of information on the prisons, camps, exiles and deportations.

Some of his manuscripts were sent to the West. His work was published in samizdat and abroad.

In 1969 he was expelled from the Union of Writers. In October 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The KGB and party officials whipped up resentment against him.

In December 1973 the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris. Solzhenitsyn was subject to threats, open surveillance and a witch hunt in the Soviet press.

In February 1974 Solzhenitsyn was arrested and a criminal case against him was opened under Article 64 (“Betrayal of the Motherland”). On 13 February the KGB deported him to West Germany. The Supreme Soviet of the USSR stripped him of his Soviet citizenship.

Solzhenitsyn wrote a whole series of new works while in exile.

In 1998, during the perestroika period, publication of Solzhenitsyn’s works began against in the USSR. “Novy Mir” in Moscow started to publish The Gulag Archipelago in August 1989.

In October 1990 Solzhenitsyn was made an honorary citizen of the city of Ryazan. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Ryazan. 1994. Photo by Evgeny Kashirin, Ryazan branch of "Memorial" 

In September 1991 the Prosecutor General announced that the case opened in 1974 against Solzhenitsyn would be closed.

In 1994 Solzhenitsyn celebrated a triumphant return to Russia.

He was awarded several Russian orders and the State Prize.

In Russia he continued to work extensively on his cycle of novels about the Russian revolution.

On 3 August 2008 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died at his home near Moscow.

He was buried at the Donskoi Monastery cemetery in Moscow.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds 


International Memorial Society: In memory of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn:

We have had the enviable but difficult fate of being the contemporaries of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The great literary talent, expressed in a large variety of literary genres, and the unity of his biography and his creative work, make Solzhenitsyn one of the most outstanding figures of Russian and world culture in the 20th century.

Usually, the scale of a personality and the talent of the individual as an artist and a thinker are not immediately recognised. Sometimes it takes decades. Only now are we beginning to understand that we have lived at the same time and in the same country as Varlam Shalamov and Vasily Grossman.

However, with Alexander it was different: on that November morning in 1962, when literary Russia first opened the November issue of Novy mir, it became clear that Russian literature had entered a new phase.

In 1967, in a letter to the Congress of Soviet writers, a new Solzhenitsyn appeared before the reading public: a brilliant political essayist, an uncompromising fighter for civil liberties, and above all for freedom of thought and of speech.

Human rights activists saw Solzhenitsyn as one of their own; for several years in the country and the world he was seen as dissident, Number One.

But Solzhenitsyn was not just a dissident: he was able to combine within himself the political fighter against the regime and the individual, who dreamed of ending the two-century-long confrontation between government and society, of a Great Reconciliation of the Russian state with the Russian intelligentsia.

In the mid-1970 's, in his Letter to Soviet Leaders, in several essays published in a collection put together by him and his associates From Under the Rubble, and in articles written in exile, Solzhenitsyn emerges as an original and powerful political thinker.

His harsh criticism of modern democracy, of the secularization of Western society and of the other bases of modern European civilization gave him a firm reputation as someone who is anti-Western and even nationalist.

But Solzhenitsyn, like his predecessor Dostoevsky, does not fit into the framework of such definitions. His search for a "special way" for Russia was nothing other than a sincere attempt to connect what he considered were Russian national values with the Christian culture of Europe, with the continuation of the spiritual quest of Russian religious philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Neither we nor anyone else can claim to today that today, now, we can appreciate the value of the intellectual heritage of Solzhenitsyn’s thought. The debates about Solzhenitsyn’s historical views, his political philosophy and journalism will go on for many more decades.

And maybe these discussions, like the disputes around Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, will go on forever — at least, as long as the socio-cultural phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia still lives on.

However, regardless of the attitude of Aleksandr Isayevich’s contemporaries and descendants to his social and political views, the incredible energy, the fierce conviction and the literary brilliance with which Solzhenitsyn formulated and defended his views, in and of themselves, ensure that his writings stand out as a cultural achievement.

For us, for the international Memorial Society, Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago has tremendous significance.

In this, by the author’s definition "an experiment in artistic investigation", he successfully combined two previously separate currents in the stream of memory about state terror: the direct personal testimony of witnesses and victims of the largest national catastrophe of the century, and attempts at critical reflection on both established and newly discovered historical data.

The main outcome of this work was not so much the new discoveries about the terror, but the establishment of an integrity of historical understanding.

In essence, the Gulag Archipelago is a colossal attempt to create a new national historical conscience, an alternative to the official version of Soviet history with its deceit, deliberate omissions and falsifications.

For many years to come, until the last years of perestroika, the samizdat text of the Gulag Archipelago would be one of those in most demand, and one of the texts for which readers were most persecuted .

It was seized in searches and those reading or possessing it were sacked from their jobs or expelled from university; those involved with its distribution and duplication were arrested and tried.

However, despite this, copies of foreign editions were secretly smuggled into the USSR, but here hundreds of copies of the book were produced by means of photography, copied by duplicating machines, and retyped on typewriters.

In the West, the Gulag Archipelago also had a massive influence as irrefutable evidence of the cost and outcomes of the Communist experiment.

The official abbreviation for "Main Administration for Camps" has become a metaphor, and this same word "Gulag" has entered all the languages of the world as one of the designations of the notion of a "humanitarian catastrophe of political origin with national or global scope."

The Gulag Archipelago opened a new phase in the understanding of the history of our country in the 20th century.

The need to work with the past for the sake of future became obvious to many people.

At first, there were dozens of such people, then there were hundreds and thousands of them. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s grand "experiment in artistic research” has been the starting point for that attempts at independent historical research in the 1970's, for the broad social movement that arose at the end of the 1980s, and for the work by Memorial that began in 1990 and continues to this day.

Now many will begin to talk of the "end of the era of Solzhenitsyn".

We categorically disagree. "The era of Solzhenitsyn," the era of the restoration of historical memory, does not end with his departure.

International Memorial Society

Translated by Graham Jones