Monday, August 4, 2008

Implacable opponent of Stalinism and Nobel Prize Winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies

Sadly today has seen the death Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed Stalin's prison camp system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile. He has died at 89. Solzhenitsyn, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi have been especially courageous in their opposition to repressive regimes.

Born in Kislovodsk, Russia, in 1918, Solzhenitsyn was the son of an army officer. The Nobel laureate studied Mathematics at Rostov State University. He also studied at Moscow Institute of Philosophy Literature and History.
During World War Two he saw action with the Red Army and was involved in major action at the front, and was twice decorated. He was arrested and found guilty of anti-Soviet propaganda for criticising Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. In 1945 he was sentenced to eight years in prison camps and later exiled from Russia to Kazakhstan. He was struck down by cancer but recovered.

Eventually reprieved he returned to European Russia.
Solzhenitsyn taught at a secondary school during the day, but spent his nights secretly engaged in writing. He described his labour camp experience in the 1962 novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Clandestine copying had seen the distribution of copies of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich among Moscow's intellectuals for months when Anna Akhmatova, Russia's greatest living poet at the time, called Solzhenitsyn. "You know that in a month you will be the most famous person on earth?" she said. "I know," he replied. The First Circle was released in 1968. The novel details the life of the occupants of a gulag prison camp located in the suburbs of Moscow. He also wrote the Cancer Ward.

Despite winning the 1970 Nobel prize for literature, Soviet authorities stripped him of his citizenship and exiled him in 1974 after his novel The Gulag Archipelago was printed in the West. This exposed the horrors of the Soviet gulag system (Soviet forced labour and concentration camp system). Solzhenitsyn eventually settled in the United States, returning to Russia in 1994 following the collapse of the Soviet Communist system. In 2007, the one-time exile received the highest Russian government award for his work in the humanities - the Russian State Prize.

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