- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2008

MOSCOW | Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89.

Stepan Solzhenitsyn told the Associated Press his father died late Sunday, but declined further comment.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union’s slave-labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown.

And they inspired millions, perhaps, with the knowledge that one person’s courage and integrity could, in the end, defeat the totalitarian machinery of an empire.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn devoted himself to describing what he called the human “meat grinder” that had caught him along with millions of other Soviet citizens: capricious arrests, often for trifling and seemingly absurd reasons, followed by sentences to slave-labor camps where cold, starvation and punishing work crushed inmates physically and spiritually.

His “Gulag Archipelago” trilogy of the 1970s shocked readers by describing the savagery of the Soviet state under the dictator Josef Stalin.

It helped erase lingering sympathy for the Soviet Union among many leftist intellectuals, especially in Europe.

But his account of that secret system of prison camps was also inspiring in its description of how one person - Mr. Solzhenitsyn himself - survived, physically and spiritually, in a penal system of soul-crushing hardship and injustice.

The West offered him shelter and accolades. But Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s refusal to bend despite enormous pressure, perhaps, also gave him the courage to criticize Western culture for what he considered its weakness and decadence.

“President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his condolences to Solzhenitsyn’s family,” a Kremlin spokesman said.

For more than 20 years, the bearded World War II veteran, who spent eight years in Stalin’s camps for criticizing the Soviet dictator, became a symbol of intellectual resistance to the Communist Party rule.

“The Gulag Archipelago,” written in secrecy in the Soviet Union and published in Paris in three volumes between 1973 and 1978, is the definitive work on Stalin’s forced-labor camps, where tens of millions perished.

A short-lived policy of de-Stalinization by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made possible the publication in 1962 of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” which described the horrifying routine of labor-camp life.

Other literary works, including a series of historical novels and political pamphlets, were banned from publication in the Soviet Union, where their distribution was made a criminal offense.

Major works including “The First Circle” and “Cancer Ward” brought Mr. Solzhenitsyn world admiration and the Nobel Literature Prize in 1970.

Four years later, he was stripped of his citizenship and put on a plane to West Germany for refusing to keep silent about his country’s past, and became an icon of resistance to the communist system from his American home in Vermont, where he remained until his triumphant return in 1994.

In 1989, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, allowed the publication of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s works as part of his “perestroika” reforms and restored his Soviet citizenship.

However, Mr. Solzhenitsyn refused to return to Russia until after the Soviet Union collapsed, marking his comeback in 1994 with a long train journey from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to Moscow.

Russia’s post-Soviet leadership paid great respect to Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who lived in seclusion outside Moscow.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn remained critical of what he saw as the decadence of post-Soviet Russia and had little time for Western-style democracy, which he felt was not a solution for his homeland.

“The main achievement is that Russia has revived its influence in the world,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn said in his last TV interview last year. “But morally we are too far from what is needed. This cannot be achieved by the state, through parliamentarianism …

“As far as the state, the public mind and the economy is concerned, Russia is still far away from the country of which I dreamed.”

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