In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future.”
I started to type the word “dissident” here to describe Solzhenitsyn, and it occurred to me how inadequate such a perfectly accurate term can sound. It’s the first word I thought of, I believe because it was so closely associated with Solzhenitsyn when I first heard of him many years ago. On reflection, though, dissident is exactly right. It’s not about what the word means to me now, but how much it meant at the time.
Gorbachev said that Solzhenitsyn was a writer who changed millions of minds. There were grave risks in doing so; he was harassed, arrested, imprisoned and ultimately exiled. (Khrushchev probably only allowed The Gulag Archipelago to be published to try and leverage some political advantage from its message.) It seems the author never stopped loving his country, though. When his citizenship was restored after the fall of the Soviet Union he returned to Moscow where he lived out the remainder of his days.
A long, public career invites many detractors. With decades of safe distance between them and the brutal times of which Solzhenitsyn wrote, some have focused on the imperfections in this writer, his politics, his beliefs, and his work. It’s hard to argue with the courage of it all, however.
Personally, I think dissidents are a very healthy presence in society. I wish there were more of them, but we lost one today.
I can say without affectation that I belong to the Russian convict world no less than I do to Russian literature. I got my education there, and it will last forever.”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918 – 2008