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Archive for Monday, August 11, 2008

Death may spur welcome revival of Solzhenitsyn’s work

August 11, 2008

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Among the most courageous, truth-seeking figures of the past century, Alexander Solzhenitsyn stood particularly tall. Although he succumbed to age and illness last week, the Nobel laureate left behind an impressive body of work that offers unending inspiration.

Indeed, Solzhenitsyn's observations about tyranny and abuse are needed more than ever. Tyrants and abusers loom in all directions, from officials, such as Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who manipulate entire populations, to unknowns, such as modern slave-traffickers, who deprive people of their rights one at a time.

Solzhenitsyn experienced his personal horrors at a time when human rights had not yet made their ascent to the position of respect that they should hold today and in a place - the former Soviet Union in its early decades - where the dreams of a revolution were rapidly crumbling in the hands of many Russians. They had merely traded one form of harsh rule, tsarism, for another.

Even so, Solzhenitsyn found himself in rare company: that of the relatively fortunate. Too few of those who entered the gulags were able to escape. Fewer yet emerged with their spirits intact and possessed of an audacious willingness to confront the system that had mistreated them. Solzhenitsyn, though, raised his pen and bore witness with eloquent intensity. During a brief period of budding reform under former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s, when some of Solzhenitsyn's words were published in his own country, it appeared that the writer had triumphed.

But his date with that particular destiny would be delayed for years. Khrushchev's successors revived censorship with a vengeance. Despite Solzhenitsyn's garnering of global acclaim and a Nobel Prize, his shabby treatment at home was unrelenting. Eventually, the Soviets stripped him of his citizenship and ordered him to leave the country.

Sweeping reforms by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev provided the catalyst for change that shook and eventually shattered the communist regime, enabling Solzhenitsyn, his citizenship restored, to return to a hero's welcome in the 1990s.

Sadly, the adulation did not endure. Post-Soviet society had no time for Solzhenitsyn. And he, dismayed by Russia's poverty, corruption and weakness, had little use for it. He essentially became an exile again, this time internally in the seclusion of his home.

In death, however, Solzhenitsyn will have another opportunity as his story and writings are prominently discussed. No doubt, interest and attention will expand upon the anticipated publication of his complete works in Russia for the first time.

But Solzhenitsyn was not only a son of Russia; he belonged to everyone. My hope is that the reading and re-reading of his works will inspire a new generation of courageous, truth-seeking activists who will rail against injustice - in Russia and other countries.

John C. Bersia is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida.

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