ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN planned to return home to Moscow yesterday, culminating a seven-week odyssey across Russia, which he has said is deeply wracked by crime, poverty, and despair.
No brass bands are planned to welcome Russia's greatest-living writer and winner of the 1970 Nobel prize back to Moscow, but his journey in a luxury railroad car received unprecedented publicity here. ``Whole layers of history are returning to native soil. I'm pleased with the return of Alexander Isayevich,'' said Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Essay outlines views
Mr. Solzhenitsyn has said he will not officially participate in politics and has yet to formally accept an invitation to address Russia's parliament. But in a new essay titled ``The Russian Question at the End of the 20th Century,'' he has recorded his political views, setting the stage for his new life in Moscow.
Soon to be published by the literary journal Novy Mir, the essay was completed before Solzhenitsyn left his Vermont exile. In both content and tone, it mirrors comments the writer has made on his journey across the Far East, Siberia, Ural Mountains, and Volga River region.
The lengthy historical essay is permeated by references to Russia's spiritual, moral, and cultural uniqueness. Not surprisingly, Solzhenitsyn warns that following other countries' models will only harm his homeland. Despite the familiar nationalist tone, he criticizes imperialists who want to extend Russia ``beyond its natural boundaries,'' especially to the eastern and southern Caucasus regions.
At the same time, however, Solzhenitsyn expresses outrage at the fate of the 25 million ethnic Russians living in former Soviet republics, and repeats earlier calls for Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and north-western Kazakhstan to form a single state. But he stresses that Russia should focus on internal problems, citing the waste of Russian resources and manpower while leaders focused too much on the West.
Solzhenitsyn lashes out at Mikhail Gorbachev by calling the former Soviet leader's perestroika reforms ``hypocritical and chaotic.'' He also criticizes Russia's new self-proclaimed role as global arbiter. ``We should not vie for international leadership. All our efforts should be directed inward, focused on industrious internal development.''
Democracy does not exist in Russia, and the market reforms started by leading economist Yegor Gaidar are ``illiterate,'' Solzhenitsyn writes, although he markedly refrains from mentioning President Yeltsin by name. ``Now we are creating the atrocious, beastly, criminal society, which is many times worse than the Western models we are trying to copy.''
He concludes his analysis of modern-day Russian reforms on a spiritual note, one that echoes comments he has made repeatedly since he arrived in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostok to begin his journey back to Moscow. ``The crisis in our country now is many times deeper than just an economic crisis,'' he writes. ``It's a crisis of consciousness and morality.''
Considered Russia's voice of conscience for being the man who stood up to the Communist totalitarian state and survived, Solzhenitsyn's most bitter disappointment since the essay was written was learning that few of his compatriots had read his works. ``I thought I was returning to a Russia which had read me,'' the chronicler of Stalin's gulags complained during his voyage. His ``The Red Wheel,'' a multivolume epic about events leading to the Bolshevik Revolution, has had ``no impact whatsoever'' in Russia, he said.