Solzhenitsyn takes reformist Russia to task with passion born of exile

May 29, 1994|By New York Times News Service

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Showing that 20 years of exile had only deepened his thunder, Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn used his first news conference back on Russian soil yesterday to fire bolts former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Westernizing reformers, Russian right-wing leader Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky and, above all, unrepentant Communist "oppressors and executioners."

Like a prophet of old emerging from long seclusion to castigate a fallen world, the 75-year-old writer held forth with passion and eloquence for almost two hours on Russia's need for repentance and reconciliation, on the errors of its post-Communist course, on the sufferings of the Russian nation.

No, he declared, he had not returned too late. Had he come back any earlier, he said, he would have only become embroiled in power struggles and confusion.

"I not only believe I am not late, but that I have come just at the right time," he declared, "because the scum of triviality has cleared, and the people have ripened enough to become conscious of their fate in its essence and depth. I think it is precisely now that I am useful, not three years ago when two powers clashed like two goats on a bridge until one fell off."

The reference was evidently to the losing struggle of Mr. Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union and Communist Party leader, against Boris N. Yeltsin, the current Russian president.

But the central point threading through the news conference was that both Mr. Gorbachev's "perestroika" and the attempts at reforms after the collapse of the Soviet Union had brought Russia to a hideous quandary, and that the nation was now ready to search for an order built on Russia's history, tradition and spirit -- and that this was the mission for which Mr. Solzhenitsyn had prepared himself in his long exile.

The writer, whose exile and international fame arose from his searing accounts of the Stalinist terror, arrived in Vladivostok on Friday after 20 years of exile, 18 of them in seclusion in Vermont.

From this Pacific port, he intends to travel slowly across Russia by rail in two special cars, reacquainting himself with a nation that has dramatically changed from the totalitarian state from which he was ejected in February 1974.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn said that he had no firm itinerary for the trip and that it would develop as he went.

He spent his first morning in Russia wandering through the weekly farmers market on Vladivostok's main square and visiting a hospital, where he held three hours of talks with doctors. But it was evident in his first declaration, on the main square Friday, and far more so yesterday, that he did not intend to wait to speak out.

Indeed, he had long tried to warn Russia against Communism and the dangers that emerging from it would hold.

"But I couldn't shout from there -- my books were banned; my warnings were not heeded," he said. "I would be happy to be proved a false prophet, but what I anticipated has come to pass: We are climbing out in the clumsiest, most awkward, most destructive fashion for life and for the national spirit. I understand this. I am not surprised. It is to this I came."

Then the thunderbolts fell. His tone had the same anger and moral reproach that made his most celebrated work, "The Gulag Archipelago," so potent an indictment of the Soviet terror system -- and that have made his impassioned commentaries on the West and on Russia so controversial.

* On Mr. Gorbachev: "There were many paths out" of Communism, "but Gorbachev had no such goal. . . . His perestroika was hypocrisy. He lost seven years; he did nothing in seven years; he destroyed all the structure of industry without replacing them with anything."

* On Yegor T. Gaidar, the architect of Mr. Yeltsin's economic program: "The 'reform' Gaidar gave out was brainless. I refuse to recognize that this is reform. Reform is a constructive, thought-through system of actions linked one to another." Mr. Gaidar, he said, did only two things. He freed prices while monopolies were still intact, enabling them to charge whatever they wanted while reducing production. And, Mr. Solzhenitsyn said, he began "a deceptive privatization," in which "for some ridiculous sum people took over national properties, and all the so-called 'vouchers' . . . don't amount to a 300th of 1 percent of the national wealth."

* On Mr. Zhirinovsky, the ardent nationalist who fared unexpectedly well in the Dec. 12 parliamentary elections: "Zhirinovsky is a caricature of a Russian patriot. It's as if someone wanted to create a purported Russian patriot so that he would be hateful to the whole world."

Mr. Solzhenitsyn eluded several questions about Mr. Yeltsin, for whom he has expressed guarded support in the past, saying that there were many things he could say, but not yet.

But he was critical of virtually all aspects of Russia's current attempts at democracy and reform, which he branded "false democracy."

Russians, he said, have to stop waiting for some "monarch, boyar, politburo or general secretary" to issue good decrees, and to take their fate into their own hands, above all in local elections.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that he had no ready recipe for Russia's renewal. But he said that the answer was not in trying forcibly to graft the experience of the West onto Russia.

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