Writes Andrew Cusack:
“Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, the most famous Russian writer and historian of our age, has died at eighty-nine years of age. Solzhenitsyn was the earliest to bring first-hand knowledge of the Gulag, the Soviet system of prison colonies and labour camps, to wider Western attention. For this noble task, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and expelled from the Soviet Union four years later, returning in 1994. After the fall of the Soviet regime, he despised Boris Yeltsin’s incompetence, identifying 1998 as the low point of Russia’s recent history. “Yeltsin decreed I be honored the highest state order,” Solzhenitsyn explained. “I replied that I was unable to receive an award from a government that had led Russia into such dire straits.”
Influenced by his experience in exile in both Switzerland and New England, Solzhenitsyn insisted on the need for local self-government in Russia.
Solzhenitsyn expressed further disappointment with the new Western imperialism being waged against Russia, embodied in the 1999 War against Serbia which turned so many Russian minds against the Western powers they had previously been quite friendly to.
Giving the 1978 Commencement Address at Harvard University, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered a sharp and stunning rebuke to the modern West, repudiating its liberalism, materialism, and supremacism.
“There is this belief,” Solzhenitsyn said, “that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”
He went on to describe the mentality which led the Western elites to adopt multiculturalism and pluralism, while they simultaneously lacked the courage to defend their Western culture or to challenge Communist governments which did not have the support of the peoples they governed. Solzhenitsyn described this lack of courage as “the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days”.
Solzhenitsyn went on to condemn the materialism of Western culture, fostered by the welfare state. He argued that the extreme safety and prosperity of the Western world caused Western people to be unwilling and reluctant to defend the most essential and important values that their culture and tradition were based upon, for fear of relinquishing the “physical splendour” they enjoy “to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about.”
“Alexander Solzhenitsyn died yesterday at the age of 89. Though Solzhenitsyn was most well known for his fierce opposition to totalitarian socialism in his native Russia, I will always remember him fondly as a true patriot who refused to play the role of propagandist in the service of any empire, communist or otherwise. Like his American, Cold War counterpart, George Kennan, Solzhenitsyn appreciated the beauty of smallness and the value of communal tradition. The world will miss him and could use many more like him.”