Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Solzhenitsyn lies in state in Moscow

Russians queue up to mourn dissident Solzhenitsyn

By James Kilner and Conor Sweeney

Russia paid tribute to 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 at attention at 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 Solzhenitsyn's death from heart failure at 89 on Sunday, Russians paid respects to the survivor of Stalin's Gulag prison camps who documented their tyranny and challenged Soviet rule at home and 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 maths professor Alexander Romanov, 60.

"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 appalling life of a labor camp prisoner.

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 and thousands of other prison camp experiences.

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

Solzhenitsyn was treated with great deference by subsequent Russian leaders, including 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 football trainer Alexander Selemenev, 27, on his way to work.

He said he respected Solzhenitsyn because he wasn't 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 Solzhenitsyn kindly. The Communist party newspaper Pravda 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 ... that is why he is being applauded so rapturously by both Russian President Medvedev and U.S. President Bush!" it wrote in a commentary on Tuesday.

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

(Reporting by James Kilner, writing by Conor Sweeney; editing by Robert Hart)

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