Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - in The West

In The West

On 12 February 1974, Solzhenitsyn was arrested and deported the next day from the USSR to Frankfurt, West Germany and stripped of his Soviet citizenship. The KGB had found the manuscript for the first part of The Gulag Archipelago and, less than a week later, Yevgeny Yevtushenko suffered reprisals for his support of Solzhenitsyn. U.S. military attache William Odom managed to smuggle out a large portion of Solzhenitsyn's archive, including the author's membership card for the Writers' Union and Second World War military citations; Solzhenitsyn subsequently paid tribute to Odom's role in his memoir "Invisible Allies" (1995).

In Germany, Solzhenitsyn lived in Heinrich Böll's house in Cologne. He then moved to Zurich, Switzerland before Stanford University invited him to stay in the United States to "facilitate your work, and to accommodate you and your family." He stayed on the 11th floor of the Hoover Tower, part of the Hoover Institution, before moving to Cavendish, Vermont in 1976. He was given an honorary Literary Degree from Harvard University in 1978 and on Thursday, 8 June 1978 he gave his Commencement Address condemning, among other things, materialism in modern western culture.

Over the next 17 years, Solzhenitsyn worked on his cyclical history of the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Red Wheel. By 1992, four "knots" (parts) had been completed and he had also written several shorter works.

Despite spending almost two decades in the United States, Solzhenitsyn did not become fluent in spoken English. He had, however, been reading English-language literature since his teens, encouraged by his mother. More importantly, he resented the idea of becoming a media star and of tempering his ideas or ways of talking in order to suit television. Solzhenitsyn's warnings about the dangers of Communist aggression and the weakening of the moral fiber of the West were generally well received in Western conservative circles (e.g. Ford administration staffers Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld advocated on Solzhenitsyn's behalf for him to speak directly to then-President Gerald Ford about the Soviet threat), prior to and alongside the tougher foreign policy pursued by U.S. President Ronald Reagan. At the same time, liberals and secularists became increasingly critical of what they perceived as his reactionary preference for Russian nationalism and the Russian Orthodox religion. Solzhenitsyn also harshly criticised what he saw as the ugliness and spiritual vapidity of the dominant pop culture of the modern West, including television and much of popular music: "...the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits ... by TV stupor and by intolerable music". Despite his criticism of the "weakness" of the West, Solzhenitsyn always made clear that he admired the political liberty which was one of the enduring strengths of western democratic societies. In a major speech delivered to the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein on 14 September 1993, Solzhenitsyn implored the West not to "lose sight of its own values, its historically unique stability of civic life under the rule of law—a hard-won stability which grants independence and space to every private citizen."

In a series of writings, speeches, and interviews after his return to his native Russia in 1994, Solzhenitsyn spoke about his admiration for the local self-government he had witnessed first hand in Switzerland and New England during his western exile. He "praised 'the sensible and sure process of grassroots democracy, in which the local population solves most of its problems on its own, not waiting for the decisions of higher authorities.'"

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