Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Solzenycin ... & other dissidents

Much as Steven Hawkins is everybody’s favourite cosmologist, despite few having actually finished A History Of Time much less actually understood it, so Alexander Solzenycin is everyone’s favourite Soviet dissident without many having actually read The Gulag Appeligio.

The fact is by the end of his life he was a Russian nationalist of a particularly nasty reactionary kind. He sung the praises of the old regime under the Tsars and of the Orthodox Church, with a bit of traditional anti-semitism thrown in for go measure. He held the view, like Putin, that ‘Mother Russia’ had a special destiny; a third way that was neither western democracy nor communism.

Now that his obituaries are being written there seems a sense that he can be forgiven his reactionary quirks given his suffering under the Soviet regime and his exposure of its horrors to the world. Actually I suspect that at time of his greatest prominence in the west in the late 60’s and 70’s, the opposite was the case. All that stuff about human rights in Russia was much less important than the ammo he provided for the Cold War.

At that time he not only gave the US his staunch support, he criticised them for weakening in the anti-communist crusade – for giving up in Vietnam and for not supporting Franco. He even attacked western liberals like Amnesty International, for taking up the causes of dissidents everywhere rather than just in communist countries.

Solzenycin was not the only, the first, or even the most eloquent champion of dissidents, but he is now the best known. He is certainly not the most attractive. But it’s not too hard to figure out why others who didn’t want to turn the Russian clock back to the Middle Ages have not been given the same status. People like Victor Serge.

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