Solzhenitsyn Lays His Plans

'UPON my return to Russia, I will immediately become immersed in other concerns that I have in common with everyone.... "This phrase from a statement issued by prominent Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn last month, after the Soviet chief prosecutor had dropped treason charges against him, has remained largely unnoticed. But the writer's intentions may seriously influence the course of events in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. What are these "other concerns" he is talking about? The fact that Mr. Solzhenitsyn will return to his motherland with his own political program - a new nonfiction book entitled "Rebuilding Russia makes it clear that the most famous resident of Cavendish, Vt., is getting ready for a dive into Russian politics. No matter how old-fashioned many people think Solzhenitsyn is, he knows and understands Russia better than most democrats that are now trying to reform it. He also has a controversial but very clear vision of the country's future, something that many other figures in Russian politics obviously lack. Most of the articles that have been written in the United States about Russia in recent years contain one flaw: Their authors start from the universality of such American values as private property, free enterprise, and free markets. But many Russians worship quite different gods. True, many of them now say to pollsters that they favor free enterprise. What they really favor, though, is Western-type supermarkets they've been shown on TV, American and Japanese cars, VCRs, and blue jeans. But ask them whether they would like to live in an insecure and volatile world of free enterprise, where a single wrong decision can cost you all you possess, where a company you've been working for can go bust any minute or throw you out to improve its financial situation, where an illness or your child's college education can blow an irreparable hole in your budget, and where apartment rents would skyrocket, and the answer would, undoubtedly, be no. Further down the road, when Russians taste both sides of the free market, they may be disillusioned by it. Over centuries they have worked out a different psychology; they have adopted a set of values that differ substantially from those embraced by Americans. Russians in their mass have always preferred collectivism and egalitarianism to individualism. There has always been aversion to personal wealth in the Russian society, something that manifests itself now in a widespread resentment of black marketeers and the emerging nouveaux riches. A person with considerable money usually has two choices in modern Russia: either to maintain a modest lifestyle, which destroys the very reason to get rich, or to become an outcast. Russian to the tips of his nails, Solzhenitsyn knows this. He also surely understands that those who are characterized in the Western press as reformers are in fact a relatively tiny group of Westernized intellectuals who have capitalized on a widespread resentment of the communist elite but have not yet won a popular endorsement of their own agenda. And he certainly realizes that the rejection of communism and subsequent reformers' victories such as the election of Boris Yeltsin to the Russian presidency are in no way a mandate by Russians to Westernize their country. Solzhenitsyn obviously wants to return when the situation back home would be politically ripe for him. His time may come as early as next spring or summer. By then, disillusionment with Yeltsin and his team of reformers will start to spread. Yeltsin will try to avoid unpopular reforms that are, however, necessary for a successful turnaround. As a man who has never had a coherent vision of future Russia, Yeltsin will hesitate, maneuver back and forth, and finally lose his aura of a national hero. It will be the time for a third force to step in. In a major test of their strength, the Russian nationalists represented by Vladimir Zhirinovsky finished third in June presidential race, winning 7 percent of the vote. It was an unprecedented success, and time now is on their side. This could not remain unnoticed in Cavendish. Solzhenitsyn favors dismissing all non-Slavic republics. He speaks for the restoration of traditional rural communities in Russia as opposed to Western-style individual farming. He does not idolize democracy; he advocates strong but enlightened central power, traditional religious values, order, modesty, and restraint, virtues that have always been praised in Russia. Although it is unlikely that at 72 Solzhenitsyn will seek a formal position in the government, he may exert a tremendous ideological, spiritual, and political influence on every facet of Russian life. He could become, as Vitaly Korotich, a prominent Moscow magazine editor, put it, sort of a "Russian Khomeini."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.