‘All Russians hate Solzhenitsyn’ - really?
2018-02-01 16:45:00 -


An Outside View - Panu Höglund

Even those of us who don’t know much about Russian literature will recognise the name Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. 


He wrote One Day in Ivan Denisovich’s Life, the first story ever about Stalin’s prison camps in the Soviet Union to be published legally and openly in a Soviet literary journal. After that, he had a conflict with those in power and was expelled from his country, but then he published The Gulag Archipelago, his great literary work about the history of those camps. 


Many people in the west were unhappy about the subsequent development of his writing and philosophy, because he devoted himself to Christian conservatism, and his latest work was somewhat tainted with anti-semitism. In any case, his important role in disclosing the Soviet crimes against humanity cannot be denied.


Russia has in recent years moved greatly towards turning into a new Soviet Union, as President Putin is of the opinion that the demise of the Soviet state was above all a great catastrophe. At the same time, he is quite eclectic in matters of ideology. If the Orthodox Church puts up a new monument in memory of those who died in Stalin’s purges, Putin will be happy to deliver a solemn speech to celebrate the occasion. But if someone from outside the Church – some group of western-influenced liberals – wants to remember the victims of the prison camps, they will have trouble with police


As regards Russian security services, they still respect those who killed the last Tsar along with his family, and Putin is himself a man of the security services – he would not prohibit his old colleagues to do so, although the church, also an ally of Putin, honours the very same Tsar as a holy martyr.


Where does this eclecticism leave Solzhenitsyn? Noting the conservative approach of the writer to Russian and world politics in his last years, you’d think he would make a quite acceptable lodestar for the new Russia that is being built by Putin. It seems, however, that the story isn’t quite that simple. 


Some of the Russian minority in Finland are being strongly influenced by their ‘old country’, spreading pro-Putin propaganda, supporting radical right wing in Finnish elections and attacking anyone who is in their opinion ‘against Russia’.


I had a few words with one woman affiliated with these people; a young woman, if she was young, because it seemed her face had been surgically altered to look young but had ended up more like a zombie. When I mentioned Solzhenitsyn, she quite lost her temper and stated that ”everyone in Russia hated Solzhenitsyn” because he was ”telling lies” about Stalin. Her idea was that the forced labour camps were simply normal prisons, that those put to death were criminals who deserved it and that Stalin had made Russia great again.


This left me dumbfounded, but it wasn’t a big surprise after all. The kind of nationalism that is spreading in Russia today greatly emphasises Stalin’s greatness. When communism collapsed, the only cause of national pride left to Russians was the ‘Great Patriotic War’, ie the war of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. Stalin led the country during the war, and thus, today’s nationalist Russians can’t accept that he was a ruthless dictator, as he was the greatest of all patriotic heroes.


It is however quite funny that nationalist Russians such as the woman I spoke to also tend to support racists and neo-fascists in Finland. If they say they, as Russians, are against fascism, you’d think they were not happy to collaborate with those who are openly trying to revive fascism.

Panu Höglund is a Finn who writes in Irish.


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