Leaders salute Russia's 'conscience' Solzhenitsyn

Leaders salute Russia's 'conscience' Solzhenitsyn

8th August 2008, Comments 0 comments

World leaders hailed the life and work of the dissident author, as Nicolas Sarkozy paid a glowing tribute to Russia's "conscience."

   Sarkozy said Solzhenitsyn, an ambivalent icon of the Cold War who
died late Sunday aged 89, was "one of the greatest consciences of 20th century

   "Born a year after the Russian revolution, for the very long years of Soviet terror he incarnated 'dissidence'," Sarkozy said in a statement.

   "It was Alexander Solzhenitsyn who opened the eyes of the world to the reality of the Soviet system, giving a universal reach to his experience," he said.

   "Refusing to leave his country to denounce better the acts of the rulers, he produced at risk of his life 'Cancer Ward' then 'The Gulag Archipelago' which amount to acts of resistance to oppression," Sarkozy went on.

   "His intransigence, his ideals and his long, eventful life make of Solzhenitsyn a storybook figure, heir to Dostoyevsky.

   "He belongs to the pantheon of world history. I pay homage to his memory," Sarkozy wrote.

   Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac said that Solzhenitsyn "will be remembered as an intellectual who provided us with a testimony, tinged with
suffering, and a sharp and accurate view on the tragedies of 20th-century

   "Russia today lost a great fighter for truth, who worked to reconcile the
Russians with their past. The world loses a figure of freedom," Chirac added.

   The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, called Solzhenitsyn "one of the greatest European writers of the 20th century ... an author who contributed to changing the course of history."

   The 1970 winner of the Nobel prize for literature was remembered by the head of the institute that designates the award.

   "With his descriptions of the (prison) camps, he opened the eyes of many on
the left and forced them to reconsider communism," Horace Engdahl, head
of the Swedish Academy, told the Aftonbladet daily's website.

    Solzhenitsyn refused to travel to Sweden to collect his Nobel prize, for fear of not being allowed to return to his homeland.

   Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Solzhenitsyn was "a central character in the tragic history of 20th century Russia.

   "We have a duty to remember him and his commitment to Russia."

    Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said Solzhenitsyn "proved that we can, without contradiction, be patriotic and still face up to dark episodes of our history."

   The Chinese Writers Association, the official state-controlled literary organisation, declined to comment, saying it had no expert on Russian literature.

   However, Liu Wenfei, a researcher on Russian literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said "for Chinese intellectuals, he was a master of literature, and for others who suffered in the 1960s and 1970s, he was a thinker with a deep sense of justice and morality who pitilessly attacked the crimes of the Soviet dictatorship."

   Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to eight years in labour camps in 1945, and was only released weeks before Josef Stalin's death.

   He was published freely under Nikita Khrushchev, but expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 under Leonid Brezhnev.

   Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev led domestic tributes to Solzhenitsyn,
"one of the greatest thinkers, writers and humanists of the 20th century... an irreplaceable loss for Russia and the whole world."

   "Alexander Isayevich's entire life was devoted to the fatherland," Medvedev continued. "He served the fatherland like a genuine citizen and patriot and he
felt with his whole heart for the fate of the Russian people, for justice in the country.

   "Alexander Isayevich's constant concern was the formation of moral and
spiritual ideals. He believed they were the strongest support for the state
and society and he fought for their triumph," Medvedev added.


Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev

   The Soviet Union's last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev said Solzhenitsyn's works
works "changed the consciousness of millions of people, forcing them to think
about past and present in a different way."

   Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn as
a Russian writer and patriot and also spoke as an avid reader of his works.

   "I read his works with interest and admiration. The same admiration I had
for the courage he showed in his personal life," he said.

(AFP - expatica August 2008) 

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