Solzhenitsyn's jeremiad: spirit and heartfelt pain

September 03, 1995|By Antero Pietila

"The Russian Question: At The End of The Twentieth Century," by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

136 pages. $15 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn continues the age-old Russian tradition of holy fools, mystics and thinkers who keep on issuing prophesies regardless of whether their countrymen want to hear them or not.

In this slim but intriguing jeremiad, the author of "Cancer Ward," "Gulag Archipelago" and a host of other seminal works examines Russia's history over the past 300 years and finds little to cheer about.

He is worried that in embracing the flashy fads and profit-inspired materialism of the West, Russians are losing their identity and committing a spiritual hara-kiri.

"We must build a moral Russia, or none at all," Mr. Solzhenitsyn writes, but laments, "We have lost the harmony with which we were created, the internal harmony between our spiritual and physical being. We have lost that clarity of spirit which was ours when the concepts of Good and Evil had yet to become a subject of ridicule . . ."

Mr. Solzhenitsyn's historical survey is a gloomy one. In his reading, most czars served Russia poorly, paying too little attention to the country's internal development while trying to curry favor in the West by getting involved in purposeless foreign intrigues.

Yet Russia had a chance after the 1860s, according to Mr. Solzhenitsyn. A society of laws and political pluralism was being created, the people's ties to the soil had not yet been broken. "The people survived two hundred years under the Tatars and three hundred years of serfdom because it maintained its agricultural way of life."

That brief period of hope was interrupted by the 1917 Bolshevik takeover and 70 years of communist rule, which, aside from great misery, "broke the organic flow of people's lives."

Mr. Solzhenitsyn calls for the revival of Russian values and consciousness.

He advocates the union of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan and the methodical evacuation of all ethnic Russians desiring to leave the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. At the same time, he says that all those are Russians who, regardless of their ethnic background, "feel themselves a part of this heritage in spirit, in consciousness, in heartfelt pain."

He accuses Western politicians of fostering "the weakness of Russia" and its "continuing fragmentation" but predicts that in the next century "circumstances will arise... when all of Europe and the United States will be in dire need of Russia as an ally."

Mr. Solzhenitsyn's chronicles of Stalinism led to his expulsion from the Soviet Union. A year ago, he returned to Moscow after a 20-year exile in Vermont. His is a voice in the wilderness. But his message contains views that are shared by wide segments of Russian nationalists who feel that their countrymen, in their readiness to accept Western political ideas and secular values, are forsaking the essence of Mother Russia.

Antero Pietila is an editorial writer for The Sun. He was the paper's Moscow correspondent from 1983 to 1988.

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