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Who Is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn And Why Should He Be Awarded The Medal Of Freedom?

15 September 2018 @ 19:21

[NOTE: This post will remain stuck here at the top of this column;
for newer postings, please see below.]

Someone I know very well has put-up a petition at to ask the President to award Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn the Medal Of Freedom on the occasion of the One Hundredth Anniversary of his birth, which is 11 December 1918.

While engaged in a conversation with a few of my Friends In The Ether the other night, I lamented the fact that so few people had signed the Petition. 

NoWayJosê responded:

Maybe because only an infinitesimal percentage of people alive actually know who Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is. It’s not like they’re going to teach it in schools and colleges, it it?

I replied that I thought enough people over forty-five was sufficiently large enough to ensure enough signatures were gathered.

Methinks José is correct.  Either people around my age have short memories or they think of A. Solzhenitsyn has some kind of crank.  As for the younger people, he’s right again: in very few places is the story of this remarkable Man told.

So, I believe it behooves me to provide a short primer [please pass this around]…


He was born and raised in Russia by a loving Mother [his Father had died in an accident right before he was born] during the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution.  His Mother and Grandparents tried to raise him as a Believer, but, as soon as the Communist School System got a hold of him, A. Solzhenitsyn was converted to Bolshevism.

As Daniel Mahoney and Edward Ericson write in their Introduction to The Solzhenitsyn Reader:

At school Solzhenitsyn inevitably experienced conflicts between his ex-tended family’s Christian values and his teachers’ ideological indoctrination. He gradually acquiesced to Marxism-Leninism and joined the standard Communist youth organizations. His increasingly heartfelt ideological commitment shaped his youthful literary interpretation of the revolution.Nevertheless, the battle for his heart and mind waged by two competing worldviews was in only its early stages and would become the central inner drama of his life. In adulthood his firsthand experience of Soviet reality would eventually cause an about-face in his attitude toward the revolution.He remained convinced that the totalitarian experiment inaugurated by the Bolsheviks gave the twentieth century its distinctive character, but he came to believe that it must be resisted on behalf of the human spirit….

He rejected God and all related beliefs like a good Marxist, although he never lost his love for Russia and it’s peoples.

In WWII, A. Solzhenitsyn served as a battery commander, still retaining his Marxism, but with a definitely more cynical attitude to The Soviet Union’s leaders.  Wikipedia has a good description of what happened next:

In February 1945, while serving in East Prussia, Solzhenitsyn was arrested by SMERSH for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, whom he called “Khozyain” (“the boss”), and “Balabos” (Yiddish rendering of Hebrew baal ha-bayit for “master of the house”). Also he had talks with the same friend about the need of a new organisation against the Soviet regime.

He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11.[21][22] Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated…. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp. This was the normal sentence for most crimes under Article 58 at the time.

Those eight years were to be spent in the GULAG [Glavny Upravlenie Lagerey (trans: Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps)].  It should be noted that it was often routine for prisoners sentenced under Article 58 to have their sentences doubled or tripled or made life terms.

Some truths about the Gulags from

•Solzhenitsyn estimated that only 10 percent of Stalin’s victims were party or state officials. The remainder were primarily ordinary citizens—peasants, workers, intellectuals. Some were imprisoned for failing to die in German concentration camps. The gulag population in 1942 was 1,1777,043. Of these at least 352,560 died in captivity.

•An estimated 12 to 20 million people died in gulags under Stalin’s rule. The life expectancy of prisoners in many camps was about 2 years and 90 percent didn’t survive. The prisoners died from a variety reason: dehydration, tuberculous, typhus, frostbite, exposure, planned famine. Some were worked to death. Some had their heads crushed with crowbars. Suicides were common and prisoners were often so weak they feared that even a mild cold could do them in.

•Others were executed, mostly by a pistol shot to the back of the head. At Solovetsky, prisoners were killed by throwing them down long sets of outdoor stairs. At other places prisoners were asphyxiated with exhaust fumes. There were mass executions. At one camp 30 prisoners were shot a day just to frighten the rest of the prisoners.

•Prisoners in Siberia had to endure clouds of mosquitos and blood-sucking midges in the summer and -40°F temperature in paper thin clothes in the winter (if temperatures dropped below -50°they were allowed to stay inside). One survivor at a Siberia camp recalled” “the mosquitos crawled to our sleeves, under our trousers. One’s face would blow up from the bites. At the work site, we were brought lunch and it happened that as you as you were eating your soup, the mosquitos would fill up the bowl like buckwheat porridge. They filled up your eyes, your nose and throat, and taste of them was sweet, like blood.

•Prisoners in the gulags were routinely sent into solitary confinement, exposed to bright lights and deprived of sleep. Guards played on these fears by subjecting prisoners to strip searches in the freezing cold, sometimes as often as five times a day

•Punishments included beatings, torture and stints in shizo—a cold nine-foot-wide, wire-covered punishment cell that was entered through a hole only large enough for a an emaciated man or a small dog. At Solovetsky prisoners were forced to sit on a pole for 18 hours.

•In an effort to secure forced confession prisoners were slashed with knives, burned with cigarettes, beaten savagely, and tortured with ice water. There were even reports of men being chained to a truck that moved at four mph. Either they kept up the pace or were dragged. One former prisoner told the New York Times, “I saw people suspended on iron hooks under their ribs. I saw German shepherd eating living human flesh.”

It was in the Camps, despite the horrific conditions, that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn found he had time to think and reflect.  As a result of that and of his discussions with other prisoners, he started questioning everything he had been taught — all of the USSR’s propaganda.

More from The Solzhenitsyn Reader:

The first prison camps to which Solzhenitsyn was assigned were located in the Moscow area. His health deteriorated seriously, but worse were his psychological bewilderment and the mortifying moral compromises that he could not withstand. As he gained hitherto unimaginable insights into the Soviets’ systematic brutalization of innocent people, his faith in Marxist dogma, which wartime had undermined, now crumbled completely. By contrast, he encountered personal nobility in many of the so-called “enemies of the people.” Serene, radiant Christians particularly impressed him….

Solzhenitsyn’s sentence ended on February 9, 1953, the precise eight-year anniversary of his arrest. He was exiled to Kok-Terek, a village in Kazakhstan, and was forbidden any contact with persons from his past. His wife had earlier (with her husband’s permission) filed for divorce in order to escape the unbearable discrimination that accompanied being a prisoner’s spouse; by 1952 she had married another man. Solzhenitsyn survived in exile by teaching high school students mathematics and physics. In every spare moment he wrote, first putting onto paper what he had mentally composed while incarcerated. Later in 1953 his cancer recurred, and soon it was diagnosed as terminal. Given only a few weeks to live, unable to eat or sleep, he received permission to travel three hundred miles to Tashkent, Uzbekistan,for treatment. Before the trip he jammed his manuscripts into a bottle and—in a unique twist on the Soviet-era concept of “writing for the drawer”—buried it….

In 1956 Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, in an effort to consolidate his hold on power, gave a now-famous secret speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union denouncing Stalin for deviating from Leninist principles. This wide-ranging attack rocked both the Soviet leadership and Communists abroad. It called into question the Soviet Union’s monolithic impregnability. Soviet citizens experienced the after-effects in an unpredictably changeable cultural liberalization known as the“Thaw.” …In early 1957 he was officially “rehabilitated,” with the 1945 charges expunged from his record.Then he remarried Natalia Reshetovskaya and moved with her to the provincial city of Ryazan, where again he taught and wrote.

Aleksandr Tvardovsky, the editor of Novy Mir, worked courageously to publish Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s ground-shattering book, One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich.  Surprisingly, Premir Khrushchev agreed to publish the work.

From The Solzhenitsyn Reader again:

Novy Mir published One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in November1962. Establishment writers followed Khrushchev’s lead in praising the little book and politicizing its significance. The depiction of prison-camp life, a prohibited subject that was nonetheless known by myriad Soviets through their family members’ experiences, created a sensation among ordinary citizens. Millions of copies circulated from hand to hand. The work was a bomb-shell abroad, as well. The West hailed the author as a truth-telling freedom fighter and the text as great art. At a stroke, an unknown provincial school-teacher became famous worldwide. This fame protected Solzhenitsyn some-what through the long struggle to come. One unexpected but particularly welcome consequence was the flood of letters that ex-zeks sent to Solzhenitsyn. These eyewitness accounts were just what he needed to resurrect his plans to write The Gulag Archipelago [an expose of the Gulag from it’s origins until the 1960’s].

The ‘Thaw’ began to slowly freeze again and Aleksandr found himself gradually on the outs with Soviet Officials and, perhaps, most cowardly, with his fellow writers.

As The Solzhenitsyn Reader reports:

While the public skirmishes proceeded in one dizzying round after an-other, Solzhenitsyn was living virtually a second life in private. As an “underground” writer he was working on The Gulag Archipelago. Only when Invisible Allies appeared in 1991 did readers learn the spellbinding story of how he composed this immense work in the face of seemingly unbearable constraints, all the while keeping so occupied with other work that the authorities could never guess he was managing this project, too. Although his intermittent labors on Gulag ran from 1958 to 1968, during the mid-sixties he made four visits to a “Hiding Place” in Estonia provided by old gulag mates of his and their friends; and there, he reports, he worked as he never had before. He sent a microfilm of Gulag to the West in 1968, the same year in which [his next novels] The First Circle and Cancer Ward were published in the West.

In 1969 Solzhenitsyn was finally expelled from the Writers’ Union, an action that left him formally unemployed and thus vulnerable to legal sanctions for “social parasitism.”… [Any misstep on his part or concerted efforts of the Soviets could have led to his re-imprisonment or death.]

…The conflict between author and authorities that persisted through the 1960s reached its highest pitch in the early 1970s. Libraries followed orders to destroy their copies of One Day and the few other published works by Solzhenitsyn. KGB actions against him included ransacking his cottage and severely beating a friend of his who happened to be there, mailing him and his wife threatening letters, and—the topper—attempting to kill him by poisoning….

In [his novel] August 1914 the signs of Solzhenitsyn’s patriotic and Christian com-mitments were too clear to be ignored and bothered some reviewers.Plainspoken critic Mary McCarthy encapsulated the rising qualms in her complaint that Solzhenitsyn was “rude and unfair” toward the liberal “advanced circles” of 1914: “He has it in for those people, just as he would have it in for you and me, if he could overhear us talking.” Thus were the terms set for a major defection from Solzhenitsyn.

In mid-1973 the KGB, having gotten wind of The Gulag Archipelago and hunting for a copy, hauled in for interrogation Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, a Leningrad woman who had served Solzhenitsyn as an amanuensis. Against Solzhenitsyn’s instructions, she had not destroyed her copy, lest all others be confiscated and the work lost to posterity. After five days and nights of non-stop questioning, she cracked. The KGB got its manuscript. Shortly thereafter, she died, either by suicide or (as Solzhenitsyn thinks more likely) by murder. Knowing the KGB’s skill at quoting out of context to reverse in-tended meanings, Solzhenitsyn signaled his Swiss lawyer to publish Gulag in the West. His decade-long war with the authorities was entering its final battle. The publication of Gulag led directly to his expulsion from his homeland.

This happened on 12 February 1974.

The Gulag Archipelago exposed for the whole word to see the Tyranny — the Misery, Degradation, and Death — that Leftist Ideologies always ended-up committing.

While in Exile [1974-1994], Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn drew violent criticism for his denouncement of all Ideology [even if it work a Benevolent Face, such as in The West] and for his friendly warnings to Western Civilization that it too faced it’s own versions of Moral Crisis.  He was viciously maligned by The Left, who painted him as a Right Wing Reactionary — the farthest thing from The Truth.


The Executive Order [#11085] clarifying the Award states it may be awarded ‘to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1), the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors’.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn has met all three conditions.

Aleksandr & Natalia Solzhenitsyn

Through his efforts to expose The Soviet Union’s crimes [and, indirectly, the crimes of all other Ideological regimes], he delegitimized the false ‘moral’ justification of The Union’s actions and positions.

Through his efforts to expose the Utter and Total Hypocrisy of Soviet Dogma, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn provided the main ammunition used by Ronald Reagan, Saint John Paul The Great, and Margaret Thatcher to bring about a peaceful end to The Cold War.

Through his efforts to warn the whole world against the dangers of Ideological Thinking, he fired the first, effective shots in The Cultural Wars in which we are engaged.

We are fortunate to have had him in our presence and, now, in our memory, where he warns us to always be on guard against, not only the Evil that exists outside of ourselves, but against the forces that seek to dominate our Souls and crush ‘the better angels of our nature’.

I ask you to sign the Petition and get the word out to your family, friends, and acquaintances before the 10 October Deadline

Please Click Here to Sign The Petition.

Thank you for your time.

While in Exile in Vermont, Aleksandr explains to his three children that they are on a rock that is actually a Magic Horse that will one day take them back to Russia.


One Comment
  1. 10 October 2018 @ 01:49 01:49

    That bottom photo makes me horribly sad. The kids are cute. though.

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