Reader Penny directs our attention to an interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn by Der Spiegel which contains many insights into the formerly great writer’s current state of “mind.” As Penny writes: “He’s as anti-West and naive as usual, now, a useful idiot for Putin. It’s everyone’s fault but the Russians. It’s amazing isn’t it that he was so lionized in the West, but, then again the Cold War and the fawning of the lefty literati and academics made a saint out of him any without real examination of what an anti-deomcratic person he really is. What a jerk.” It’s a great tragedy that Solzhenitsyn’s inherent Russophelia and infirm, senile mind are now being manipulated by the Kremlin to utterly destroy his whole life’s work right before his unseeing eyes.
SPIEGEL: I am not sure you were of the same opinion when in February 1945 the military secret service arrested Captain Solzhenitsyn in Eastern Prussia. Because, in his letters from the front, Solzhenitsyn was unflattering about Josef Stalin, and the sentence for that was eight years in the prison camps.
Solzhenitsyn: It was south of Wormditt. We had just broken out of a German encirclement and were marching to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) when I was arrested. I was always optimistic. And I held to and was guided by my views.
SPIEGEL: What views?
Solzhenitsyn: Of course, my views developed in the course of time. But I have always believed in what I did and never acted against my conscience.
Translation: I can’t tell you specifically what I wrote about Stalin. If I did, who knows, maybe I’d end up the next Politkovskaya.
SPIEGEL: All your life you have called on the authorities to repent for the millions of victims of the gulag and communist terror. Was this call really heard?
Solzhenitsyn: I have grown used to the fact that, throughout the world, public repentance is the most unacceptable option for the modern politician.
Translation: He’s chosen to betray everything he’s ever stood for. He’s giving up, going over to the dark side.
SPIEGEL: To accept one’s guilt presupposes that one has enough information about one’s own past. However, historians are complaining that Moscow’s archives are not as accessible now as they were in the 1990′s.
Solzhenitsyn: It’s a complicated issue.
Translation: “What do you want from me? Can’t you see my brain is like fried eggplant now?”
SPIEGEL: Your recent two-volume work “200 Years Together” was an attempt to overcome a taboo against discussing the common history of Russians and Jews. These two volumes have provoked mainly perplexity in the West. You say the Jews are the leading force of global capital and they are among the foremost destroyers of the bourgeoisie. Are we to conclude from your rich array of sources that the Jews carry more responsibility than others for the failed Soviet experiment?
Solzhenitsyn: I avoid exactly that which your question implies: I do not call for any sort of scorekeeping or comparisons between the moral responsibility of one people or another; moreover, I completely exclude the notion of responsibility of one nation towards another. All I am calling for is self-reflection.
Translation: Damn right. Everybody in the world was more to blame than the Slavic people, of course.
SPIEGEL: How do you assess the period of Putin’s governance in comparison with his predecessors Yeltsin and Gorbachev?
Solzhenitsyn: Gorbachev’s administration was amazingly politically naïve, inexperienced and irresponsible towards the country.
Translation: Takes one to know one, you see.
SPIEGEL: It has gradually become clear to everyone that the stability of Russia is of benefit to the West. But there is one thing that surprises us in particular: When speaking about the right form of statehood for Russia, you were always in favor of civil self- government, and you contrasted this model with Western democracy. After seven years of Putin’s governance we can observe totally the opposite phenomenon: Power is concentrated in the hands of the president, everything is oriented toward him.
Solzhenitsyn: Yes, I have always insisted on the need for local self-government for Russia, but I never opposed this model to Western democracy. On the contrary, I have tried to convince my fellow citizens by citing the examples of highly effective local self-government systems in Switzerland and New England, both of which I saw first-hand.
In your question you confuse local self-government, which is possible on the most grassroots level only, when people know their elected officials personally, with the dominance of a few dozen regional governors, who during Yeltsin’s period were only too happy to join the federal government in suppressing any local self-government initiatives.
Today I continue to be extremely worried by the slow and inefficient development of local self-government. But it has finally started to take place. In Yeltsin’s time, local self-government was actually barred on the regulatory level, whereas the state’s “vertical of power” (i.e. Putin’s centralized and top-down administration) is delegating more and more decisions to the local population. Unfortunately, this process is still not systematic in character.
SPIEGEL: But there is hardy any opposition.
Solzhenitsyn: Of course, an opposition is necessary and desirable for the healthy development of any country. You can scarcely find anyone in opposition, except for the communists, just like in Yeltsin’s times. However, when you say “there is nearly no opposition,” you probably mean the democratic parties of the 1990s. But if you take an unbiased look at the situation: there was a rapid decline of living standards in the 1990s, which affected three quarters of Russian families, and all under the “democratic banner.” Small wonder, then, that the population does not rally to this banner anymore. And now the leaders of these parties cannot even agree on how to share portfolios in an illusory shadow government. It is regrettable that there is still no constructive, clear and large-scale opposition in Russia. The growth and development of an opposition, as well as the maturing of other democratic institutions, will take more time and experience.
Translation: If the Solzhenitsyn who wrote the Gulag Archipelago heard someone rationalizing Stalin this way, he’d have incinerated him.
SPIEGEL: But Russia often finds itself alone. Recently relations between Russia and the West have gotten somewhat colder (more…), and this includes Russian-European relations. What is the reason? What are the West’s difficulties in understanding modern Russia?
Solzhenitsyn: I can name many reasons, but the most interesting ones are psychological, i.e. the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. Admittedly, this was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by the natural disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.
This mood started changing with the cruel NATO bombings of Serbia. It’s fair to say that all layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when NATO started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by literally millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one fell stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.
So, the perception of the West as mostly a “knight of democracy” has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals.
At the same time the West was enjoying its victory after the exhausting Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. In this context it was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a Third World country and would remain so forever. When Russia started to regain some of its strength as an economy and as a state, the West’s reaction — perhaps a subconscious one, based on erstwhile fears — was panic.
Translation: It’s 100% the fault of the West, Putin’s Russia has done absolutely nothing wrong.
SPIEGEL: Are you afraid of death?
Solzhenitsyn: No, I am not afraid of death any more. When I was young the early death of my father cast a shadow over me — he died at the age of 27 — and I was afraid to die before all my literary plans came true. But between 30 and 40 years of age my attitude to death became quite calm and balanced. I feel it is a natural, but no means the final, milestone of one’s existence.
Translation: He’s got something bigger to fear. It’s name is Vladimir.