Today, in 1918, the famous author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was born.
Solzhenitsyn was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union’s totalitarianism. In February 1945, he was arrested for derogatory and critical comments of Joseph Stalin’s leadership. He was sentenced to a gulag (forced slave labor camp) under Article 58, subsections 10 and 11 of the Soviet Russian Criminal Code, which state:
58-10. Propaganda or agitation, containing a call for the overthrow, subversion, or weakening of Soviet authority or for the carrying out of other counterrevolutionary crimes (art. 58-2 to 58-9 of this code), and likewise the distribution or preparation or keeping of literature of this nature shall be punishable by–
deprivation of liberty for a term not less than six months.
The same actions during mass disturbances, or with the use of religious or nationalist prejudices of the masses, or in a war situation, or in areas proclaimed to be in a war situation, shall be punishable by–
measures of social defense, indicated in art. 58-2 of this code. [6 June 1927 (SU No 49, art. 330)].
58-11. Any type of organizational activity, directed toward the preparation or carrying out of crimes indicated in this chapter, and likewise participation in an organization, formed for the preparation or carrying out of one of the crimes indicated in this chapter, shall be punishable by–
measures of social defense, indicated in the corresponding articles of this code. [6 June 1927 (SU No 49, art. 330)].
These was despite his service – which saw intense fighting against the Nazis – in World War II, as a commander of a sound-ranging battery.
He was sentenced to eight years in the gulags, in which he worked, most prominently, as a miner and bricklayer in Ekibatsuz in Kazakhstan. After his imprisonment, in 1953, he was exiled for life in northeastern Kazakhstan, where he started to question Communism itself and its inherent problems. He was released from exile in 1956, under Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization program under Russia, which set to right much of the wrongs under Stalin’s regime.
Solzhenitsyn is most famous for his sweeping historical work The Gulag Archipelago, a three-volume work that is essential for everyone who wants to understand persecution and oppression. Another work of his, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, is a fictionalized account of his time in Ekibatsuz, taking a more personal tone and theme to slave labor. These works helped inform the West of Soviet atrocities, many of which, under after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, were denied. A quote from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich summarizes his purpose in writing these works, much at the risk of his own safety: “Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?” The West could not comprehend everyday life in the Soviet Union; Solzhenitsyn changed that.
He died in 2008, in Moscow, at the age of 89. Many world leaders, Russian and international, paid tribute and honored him upon his death. His legacy should not, and will not, be forgotten.