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segunda-feira, 4 de agosto de 2008

913) Uma homenagem a um lutador contra o totalitarismo: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Dois textos em homenagem a um simples escritor, mas um dos mais poderosos do século XX: primeiro Christopher Hitchens, depois o The Economist.

The Man Who Kept On Writing
Alexander Solzhenitsyn lived as if there were such a thing as human dignity.
By Christopher Hitchens
Posted Monday, Aug. 4, 2008

Every now and then it happens. The state or the system encounters an individual who, bafflingly, maddeningly, absurdly, cannot be broken. Should they manage to survive, such heroes have a good chance of outliving the state or the system that so grossly underestimated them. Examples are rather precious and relatively few, and they include Nelson Mandela refusing an offer to be released from jail (unless and until all other political detainees were also freed) and Alexander Solzhenitsyn having to be deported from his country of birth against his will, even though he had become—and had been before—a prisoner there.

Two words will always be indissolubly connected to the name of Alexander Isayevich: the acronym GULAG (for the initials of the Stalinist system of penitentiary camps that dotted the Soviet landscape like a pattern of hellish islands) and the terse, harsh word Zek, to describe the starved and overworked inhabitants of this archipelago of the new serfdom. In an especially vivid chapter of his anatomy of that ghastly system, Solzhenitsyn parodied Marxist-Leninist theories of self-determination to argue that the Zeks were indeed a nation unto themselves. In his electrifying first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, he did in a way delineate the borders and customs of an undiscovered country with a doomed and unknown citizenry. He became an anthropologist of the totalitarian in a way not understood since David Rousset's L'Univers Concentrationnaire. If you are interested in historical irony, you might care to notice that any one chapter of Ivan Denisovich, published in Novy Mir during the Khrushchev de-Stalinization, easily surpassed in its impact any number of books and tracts that had taken "Socialist Realism" as their watchword. The whole point about "realism"—real realism—is that it needs no identifying prefix. Solzhenitsyn's work demonstrates this for all time.

To have fought his way into Hitler's East Prussia as a proud Red Army soldier in the harshest war on record, to have been arrested and incarcerated for a chance indiscretion, to have served a full sentence of servitude and been released on the very day that Stalin died, and then to have developed cancer and known the whole rigor and misery of a Soviet-era isolation hospital—what could you fear after that? The bullying of Leonid Brezhnev's KGB and the hate campaigns of the hack-ridden Soviet press must have seemed like contemptible fleabites by comparison. But it seems that Solzhenitsyn did have a worry or a dread, not that he himself would be harmed but that none of his work would ever see print. Nonetheless—and this is the point to which I call your attention—he kept on writing. The Communist Party's goons could have torn it up or confiscated or burned it—as they did sometimes—but he continued putting it down on paper and keeping a bottom drawer filled for posterity. This is a kind of fortitude for which we do not have any facile name. The simplest way of phrasing it is to say that Solzhenitsyn lived "as if." Barely deigning to notice the sniggering, pick-nose bullies who followed him and harassed him, he carried on "as if" he were a free citizen, "as if" he had the right to study his own country's history, "as if" there were such a thing as human dignity.

And, once he succeeded in getting The Gulag Archipelago into print, even in pirate editions overseas, it became obvious that something terminal had happened to the edifice of Soviet power.

Of course, one cannot have everything. Nelson Mandela has been soft on Daniel arap Moi, Fidel Castro, Muammar Qaddafi, and Robert Mugabe, and soft on them even when he doesn't need them anymore as temporary allies in a difficult struggle. When Solzhenitsyn came to the United States, he was turned away from the White House, on Henry Kissinger's advice, by President Gerald Ford. But, rather than denounce this Republican collusion with Brezhnev, he emptied the vials of his wrath over Americans who liked rock music. The ayatollahlike tones of his notorious Harvard lecture (as I called them at the time) turned out not to be misleading. As time went by, he metamorphosed more and more into a classic Russian Orthodox chauvinist, whose work became more wordy and propagandistic and—shall we be polite?—idiosyncratic with every passing year.

His most recent book, Two Hundred Years Together, purported to be a candid examination of the fraught condition of Russian-Jewish relations—a theme that he had found it difficult to repress in some of his earlier work. He denied that this inquiry had anything in common with the ancient Russian-nationalist dislike of the cosmopolitan (and sometimes Bolshevik-inclined) Jew, and one must give him the benefit of any doubt here. However, when taken together with his partisanship for Slobodan Milosevic and the holy Serb cause, his exaltation of the reborn (and newly state-sponsored) Russian Orthodox Church, and his late-blooming admiration of the cold-eyed Vladimir Putin, the resulting mixture of attitudes and prejudices puts one in mind more of Dostoyevsky than of Tolstoy. Having denounced "cruel" NATO behavior in the Balkans, without ever saying one word about the behavior of Russian soldiers in Chechnya, Solzhenitsyn spent some of his final days in wasteful diatribes against those Ukrainian nationalists who were, rightly or wrongly, attempting to have their own Soviet-era horrors classified as "genocide."

Dostoyevsky even at his most chauvinistic was worth a hundred Mikhail Sholokhovs or Maxim Gorkys, and Solzhenitsyn set a new standard for the courage by which a Russian author could confront the permafrost of the Russian system. "A great writer," as he put it in The First Circle, "is, so to speak, a secret government in his country." The echo of Shelley's remark about poets being the "unacknowledged legislators of the world" may or may not be deliberate. But it serves to remind us that writers, however much they may disown the idea, are nonetheless ultimately responsible for the political influence that they do choose to exert. Therein lies the germ of tragedy.

An icon of his age
The Economist,Aug 4th 2008

The death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn gives Russia a chance to reflect on authoritarianism

PROPHETS are without honour in their own country—at least until they die. For most of his adult life in the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was persecuted. In exile in the West from 1974, his gloomy philippics and increasingly turgid prose aroused more bafflement than appreciation. After he returned to Russia in 1994, he was welcomed but then ignored.

His death is a chance to make amends, although whether a Russia that is increasingly nostalgic for its totalitarian past will chose to take it is another matter. In an online poll (admittedly wildly unscientific) taken in recent weeks, the totalitarian leader Joseph Stalin is a front-runner for the title of greatest Russian. It was criticism of Stalin, expressed privately in a letter to a friend, that landed Mr Solzhenitsyn with an eight-year sentence in the camps. It counted for little that he was a twice-decorated artillery officer, on the front-line of the Red Army's triumph over Nazi Germany.

Having experienced the crimes of Stalinism at first hand, he exposed them in both fiction and factual form. "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", published in 1962, gave Soviet citizens their first opportunity to read about the brutality, squalor, humiliation and fear of daily life in a prison camp, all told in the matter-of-fact style of a Russian folk tale. "The Gulag Archipelago" described the system, its tortures, rules and subculture, in relentless, gruesome, encyclopedic form. Modern scholars, able to research the subject with a freedom that Mr Solzhenitsyn could never have dreamed of, say it is astonishingly accurate.

His other books are more patchy. Although he detested the ravages of communist rule on Russian language and culture, the clunky techniques of Socialist Realism are all too visible in works such as "The Cancer Ward". His later works are mostly panoramic histories of Russia in the past century that most readers found impenetrable. His latest work, a lengthy series of reflections on Jewish-Russian relations, prompted charges of anti-semitism that he furiously denied.

Mr Solzhenitsyn was a loyal communist in his youth. As a young man, he dreamed of writing a history of the Russian revolution, oblivious to the Stalinist terror going on around him. As a bright, young maths student, he once said he could easily have ended up being recruited by the NKVD, the secret police, to perpetrate terror. Instead he became its most potent critic. His political awakening came from long talks in prison with Arnold Susi, an Estonian lawyer jailed for being a minister in a non-communist government. That friendship survived for many years after both men were released.

As well as the gulag, Mr Solzhenitsyn's titanic willpower triumphed over other adversaries: cancer, censorship and Soviet bureaucratic intimidation. In 1970 he won the Nobel prize for literature, but declined to accept it in person for fear that he would not be allowed to return to the Soviet Union. But by 1974, the Soviet authorities had had enough: he was bundled onto a plane to West Germany, to spend two decades abroad. Those in the West who had championed his cause were disconcerted to find that he saw the capitalist system as little better than communism. He denounced materialism and moral emptiness, and lived in increasing seclusion in a remote corner of New England.

As communism collapsed, his books, once read only in flimsy, blurred carbon copies, could all be published legally inside the Soviet Union. But he detested the man who brought that about: Boris Yeltsin, the first freely-elected leader in Russia's history, spurning his offer of a state decoration. He could not, he said accept honours from a man who had brought misery on his people.

To the consternation of some of his supporters, he did accept an award from the ex-KGB officer who became Mr Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin. He even seemed to downplay Mr Putin's role in the KGB, saying that every country needed an intelligence service. Yet, although he praised the self-respect and stability that Russia had regained under Mr Putin, he remained deeply critical of its politics and the corruption and greed that capitalism had exposed and fuelled.

That message, often delivered in sententious, near messianic tones, had little appeal. A television programme consisting largely of all but unwatchable monologues lingered painfully on the airwaves and then died, unlamented. Few read his books.

But his death is a chance for Russia's rulers to say what they think about totalitarianism. Was the collapse of the Soviet Union the "geopolitical catastrophe" of the last century? Or is the real disaster the failure of an independent Russia to cast off the chains of authoritarianism and empire? If Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, goes beyond simply offering condolences to the Solzhenitsyn family, his thoughts on that would be eagerly awaited.

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