Solzhenitsyn: back in the USSR

AN article appearing in the Aug. 5 issue of Knizhnoe Obozrenie, a Soviet literary weekly, has advocated that charges of treason be dropped against Alexander Solzhenitsyn and that his Soviet citizenship be restored. It has been a long road back for the exiled Nobel Prize winner. On Feb. 13, 1974, Mr. Solzhenitsyn was formally charged with ``betrayal of the homeland'' and expelled from the Soviet Union. The principal reason for this action was the authorities' discovery of a manuscript of ``The Gulag Archipelago,'' a stark and unrelenting expos'e of the Soviet concentration camp system. After a barrage of vituperative criticism directed at the writer, the Soviet press banished Solzhenitsyn's name from its pages.

Following his expulsion, Solzhenitsyn spent two years in Zurich and then, in 1976, moved to Vermont, where he has spent the last 12 years working away on a multivolume historical novel probing the causes of the 1917 Revolution. At first, Solzhenitsyn involved himself sporadically in the political life of the West, but in recent years he has chosen to concentrate exclusively on his historical novel.

With the accession of Mikhail Gorbachev and the advent of glasnost, Solzhenitsyn's name began a slow comeback.

In early 1987, Sergei Zalygin, editor in chief of Novy Mir, the journal in which Solzhenitsyn had published ``One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich'' in 1962, launched a significant trial balloon. Solzhenitzyn's works, he said, might indeed be published in the USSR in the foreseeable future. Soviet officials reacted with indignation, but the balloon had been launched.

This year the movement to rehabilitate Solzhenitsyn and his works began to pick up speed. Thus when President Reagan quoted approvingly from Solzhenitsyn's writings during the May summit in Moscow, poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, an ardent of supporter Mr. Gorbachev, commented to Moscow News: ``The President spoke of Solzhenitsyn's possible return. I'm no official, and it's not up to me to deal with passport problems, but I feel that today it is up to everyone to decide his or her own future.'' If Solzhenitsyn wants to come home, Mr. Yevtushenko was saying, it can probably be arranged.

In July, an exhibit by the well-known painter Ilya Glazunov opened in Moscow. One of the exhibit's sensations was a wall-length canvas entitled ``The Mystery of the Twentieth Century,'' which featured, among other historical figures, Solzhenitsyn in prison garb. Thousands of visitors were reported to be attending the show each day. Moscow News sent a correspondent, who found himself listening in on a conversation between a young man and his girlfriend:

```It's Stalin in the coffin, isn't it? And who's that with such a wistful face?'

```That's ...''

```It's the writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn,' I said, helping him. `Have you read any of his books?'

```Are you kidding, where can I get them?'''

Entitled ``Hello, Ivan Denisovich!,'' the article heaped praise on Solzhenitsyn's 1962 short novel. ``Under Brezhnev,'' the correspondent observed indignantly, ``the camp theme was banned: as if there were no zeks, no Ivan Denisovich, no Solzhenitsyn....''

All of this was heady stuff, but it was the Aug. 5 issue of Kizhnoe Obozrenie that riveted attention. Under the heading ``Return USSR Citizenship to Solzhenitsyn,'' literary critic Yelena Chukovskaya argued that Solzhenitzyn's Soviet citizenship should be restored. She noted that Solzhenitsyn had been imprisoned for criticizing Stalin, that he was a decorated World War II Army officer, and that he had called for glasnost as early as 1969. His exile to the West, she underlined, had not been ``entirely voluntary.''

Referring to reports that Novy Mir wanted to publish Solzhenitsyn's novel ``Cancer Ward,'' Ms. Chukovskaya stated her strong opinion that the writer's Soviet citizenship should be restored first. (In the Aug. 3 issue of Literaturnaya Gazeta, editor Zalygin confirmed that the publication of ``Cancer Ward'' was ``not excluded.'')

The day appears to be approaching when Solzhenitsyn will once again see his books in print in the USSR.

If Novy Mir, with its huge circulation of 1.15 million, brings out ``Cancer Ward'' next year, that should pave the way for eventual publication of the rest of the writer's works. Solzhenitsyn has frequently said that he will return to the USSR when his books return. And when he goes back, he will be a cultural and political force to be reckoned with.

John B. Dunlop is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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