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Russians pay tribute to Solzhenitsyn PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2008

REUTERS, MOSCOW: Russians paid tribute to the former Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Tuesday, with all the hallmarks of an official lying-in-state.

While Muscovites lined up to honor the Nobel laureate, four Russian soldiers in dress uniform stood before the open coffin in the Russian Academy of Sciences, a telling symbol of recognition for the former exile.

A large portrait of Solzhenitsyn and a Russian flag completed the backdrop.

After tributes from world leaders following the death of Solzhenitsyn from heart failure on Sunday at age 89, Russians paid respects to the man, a survivor of Gulag prison camps who documented their tyranny and challenged Soviet rule both from home and when in exile.

Solzhenitsyn's widow, Natalia, and his sons looked on as people, many of them elderly, brought small bouquets of white or red flowers to lay before his coffin.
In keeping with Russian tradition, mourners brought an even number of flowers, usually two or four.

"Solzhenitsyn was one of the most important people in the history of Russia, he wrote exactly what he thought and needed to be remembered," said Alexander Romanov, 60, a mathematics professor.

"It's a shame that not all young people understand how important he is. The young people of Russia today understand less and less," he said.

Solzhenitsyn came to international attention after the publication in 1962 of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," which chronicled the life of a prisoner in a labor camp.

He went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 and later produced his most famous work, "Gulag Archipelago," a chronicle of his own prison camp experiences and those of thousands of others.

Solzhenitsyn was stripped of his citizenship in 1974, when he moved to the United States. He lived there until after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and spent his final years living in a suburb of Moscow.

Solzhenitsyn was treated with great deference by subsequent Russian leaders, including the current Russian prime minister and former president Vladimir Putin, though he became increasingly critical of corruption in modern Russia.

"The young know he wrote important books about the camps and that he received the Nobel prize, but that's all we really know. He's more important for the older generations," said a football trainer, Alexander Selemenev, on his way to work.

Selemenev said he respected Solzhenitsyn because he hadn't been afraid to tell the truth. "But recently in politics, for Russia, it's not clear what he has done," he said.

Russia's main television channels ran lengthy reports on their evening news programs and unscheduled documentaries on Solzhenitsyn's life.

But not all media reports remembered him kindly. The daily Pravda newspaper called him a radical critic who produced one-sided accounts of Stalin's rule.

"He became one of the main battering rams in destroying both the state and nation," the newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday. "That is why he is being applauded so rapturously by both Russian President Medvedev and U.S. President Bush."

A funeral service will take place on Wednesday at the medieval Donskoi monastery, where Solzhenitsyn will be buried.

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