Soviet Downfall

.. tal issues are political and ethical. Gradually, subconsciously, I was approaching an irrevocable step–a wide-ranging public statement on war and peace and other global issues.[10] In 1968 Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov took his major step of historical significance–he published Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom. There he wrote about the crimes of Stalin, denounced the personality cult and asked for the full disclosure of his crimes; warned about ecological catastrophe and the dangers of the arms race and especially, thermonuclear weapons; he argued for convergence, for a rapprochement of the socialist and capitalist systems that could eliminate or substantially reduce these dangers, which had been increased many times over by the division of the world into opposing camps. Economic, social and ideological convergence should bring about a scientifically governed, democratic, pluralistic society free of intolerance and dogmatism, a humanitarian society which would care for the Earth and its future, and would embody the positive features of both systems.[11] In June of that year a copy of the essay was given to the correspondent of a Dutch newspaper. And a few days later the BBC reported the extraordinary event: the Soviets’ leading physicist called for disarmament, rapprochement with the West and a humanitarian society for the Soviet Union.

A month later Sakharov was asked to reject all the main statements of his essay because they were discrediting the Soviet state. When he refused, he was forbidden to go back to the Installation, which meant getting fired, and he was ordered not to leave Moscow. The ideas expressed in the essay were in many ways similar to the moral vision of Solzhenitsyn. The humanitarian society was Solzhenitsyn’s wish as well; in fact all his writings denounced the violence and aggression of the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn conceives of the Soviet people as inmates of closed systems in which all are sentenced and condemned, usually unjustly and without legal recourse or appeal, and in which all are doomed. Incarcerated in penal colonies, condemned to exile, isolation, loneliness, illness and death, all his characters are at the mercy of cruel and implacable institutions and of the vicious and violent who run them.[12] And there is no escape except the solidarity that the oppressed provide to each other.

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It has become the theme going through almost all Solzhenitsyn’s writings about concentration camps. In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn makes his main character a person able to keep his honesty and dignity despite the consistent and deliberate efforts of the system to crush every human feature in its inhabitants. Ivan Denisovich shares with Alyoshka, the Baptist, the last food he has. When put into perspective, this simple act can be considered without a doubt a gesture of unreserved generosity. The story is, itself, fascinating because it had been Solzhenitsyn’s own experience that made it possible for him to describe in detail the one day of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov out of his eight years in the concentration camp.

The extreme severity of their hardships can be observed in Solzhenitsyn’s novel: The narrator describes conditions in the camp detail by detail: the early start of the work day in the complete darkness and frost of a Siberian winter night, the cold of the prisoners’ barracks, their starvation diet, and the brutality of the authorities.[13] The depth of degradation of the prisoners in the camp is startling. When Ivan Denisovich sees ..a young fellow who was crossing himself before he started to eat, Shukhov is surprised by this as something extraordinary to happen in the concentration camp and, therefore, concludes: Must have been a Western Ukrainian and new to the place. The Russians didn’t even remember which hand you cross yourself with.[14] Western Ukraine had been annexed rec ently by the Soviet Union, and that is why the Western Ukrainians had not reached the level of dehumanization of the Russians who had been under the Communist rule since 1917. The writings of Solzhenitsyn were denouncing the regime for enslaving and suppressing its population, but the situation with human rights in the country was not getting any better. In fact, the actions of the government were only provoking further indignation in the dissident human rights movement.

In 1970 Sakharov, along with Yuri Zhivluk and Valentin Turchin, wrote an appeal to the leaders concentrating on a single key issue, the introduction of democracy and intellectual freedom as essential for the advancement of science, and thus for improved economic performance.[15] The same year Sakharov entered the world of dissidents by meeting with Valery Chalidze and delivering a complaint to the Procurator’s Office which was protesting against Pyotr Grigorenko being sent to a psychiatric hospital. Grigorenko was defending arrested Crimean Tartar activists who wanted to come back to Crimea, their homeland from where they were deported to the Far East under Stalin. Sakharov also became involved in efforts to save the biologist Zhores Medvedev who had been taken by force to a psychiatric hospital for his writings. Solzhenitsyn publicly denounced Medvedev’s detention but the actions of the two men stayed separate from one another. The Human Rights Committee was Sakharov’s and his co-sponsors’ other accomplis hment. It was established in November of 1970 and in December of 1970 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn joined it as well.

On July 1971 the Committee denounced the misuse of psychiatry and went on discussing and fighting for the basics of human rights: freedom of religion, freedom of movement and freedom of speech. In 1973 Sakharov gave an interview to Scandinavian radio and television correspondent Olle Stenholm in which he supported dtente with the United States because it reduced tensions and the risk of war, but warned the West against letting the USSR achieve military superiority since it was a closed, totalitarian society capable of dangerously unpredictable actions.[16] After that interview the Soviet press launched an anti-Sakharov campaign. Letters and articles denouncing Sakharov appeared in all the leading Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, Izvestia and Literaturnaya gazeta, signed by workers, academicians and other individuals. In 1974 Sakharov went on his first hunger strike, the aim of which was to call attention to the conditions of political prisoners in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals. It took place in June in order to coincide with Nixon’s visit to the Soviet Union In February of the same year Solzhenitsyn was sent into exile in West Germany.

He made public statements denouncing the Soviet re gime; however, the main reason for the exile was the publication in the West of the first volume of Gulag Archipelago, a story describing the society of zeks (prisoners of the concentration camps). In 1975 Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace The laureate was not permitted to go to receive it himself, and his wife, Elena Bonner, spoke for him at the Award Ceremony in Oslo. It is interesting to note that five years before that on October 9, 1970, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was also given the Nobel Prize for literature, provoking the Soviet press to launch a campaign against him. He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda; his works were condemned for distorting the image of the Soviet way of life. In November, Solzhenitsyn announced that he was not going to Stockholm and the prize was awarded without his presence. Therefore, both of the men were forced not to go to receive the prize. Such prevention was not new in the Soviet Union: in 1958, the great Russian writer Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for his masterpiece, Doctor Zhivago, and had to reject the prize due to extreme domestic pressures.

In the cases of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn the idea of the Soviet authorities was probably t he same: through massive media campaigns and domestic persecutions to make them abandon their awards. In December 1979 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. It was an illegal action on all counts: the official propaganda was that the Afghanistan government invited Soviet troops to defend the Afghan people from Pakistan’s interventions. In reality, the KGB assassinated Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and installed a puppet government, which had no support from the Afghan people. According to the historian Paul Johnson: Amin was murdered two days later, together with his wife, seven children, a nephew and twenty to thirty of his staff.[17] Therefore, the real reason was Soviet expansionism and the strategic location of Afghanistan, the control of which could give USSR dominance in that region.

At the time and since, the Soviet venture into Afghanistan was compared to American involvement in Vietnam, a miscalculation which turned into a disaster and shocked national self-confidence.[18] In January Sakharov protested against the invasion in interviews given to Die Welt, the New York Times and ABC. On January 2 2, 1980 his car was stopped on a street and he was taken to the Procurator’s Office. In a few hours he and his wife, who was allowed to accompany him, were sent to the city of Gorky where they stayed in exile until 1986. They lived in a four-room apartment without a phone, forbidden to leave the city and to meet any dissident individuals and foreigners unless given special permission. In 1986 Sakharov’s situation changed positively.

Mikhail Gorbachev, becoming the leader of the Soviet Union, adopted his new policy of liberalization of the Soviet system, glasnost and perestroika. This led to the end Sakharov’s exile in Gorky: the telephone was unexpectedly installed on December 15, 1986 in their apartment and the next day they received a call from Gorbachev in which he said that Andrei Sakharov was free to go to Moscow. This was a great and joyful event that gave hope to many people behind the Iron Curtain. Sakharov continued his battle for peace and democracy: he participated in the Forum for a Nuclear-Free World, for the Survival and Development of Humanity; put strong efforts to investigate the bloody conflict in Nagorno Karabakh between Azerbaijanis and Armenians in 1988; and was elected to the Congress of Peoples’ Deputies in 1989. There Sakharov became one of the leaders, if not the leader, of the progressive-thinking part of the deputies, and was one of the founders of the Interreg ional Group which later on consolidated the democratic movement in Russia. Sakharov perceived these changes as the first sign of rapprochement with the West and of building a democratic society in his country. At first Solzhenitsyn also welcomed the changes occurring in the Soviet Union.

The relaxation of censorship led to the publication of Gulag Archipelago in the literary magazine Novy Mir. A year later he was given back his Soviet citizenship. In May of 1994 Solzhenitsyn came back to Russia. He gave many interviews, meeting with people in different regions of Russia, and he criticized the work of the government. It turned out that he did not want the development of capitalism in Russia as in the West because during his years of exile he became disillusioned with the Western way of life. Sakharov, in his turn, did not live to see the development of capitalism in Russia.

He died in 1989. Sakharov’s death in 1989 brought grief throughout the Soviet Union and even the rest of the world. Many events have occurred since his death–the collapse of the Soviet Union, free elections in the newly independent republics, including Russia, and many others. But the views and values which he expressed in Moscow and Beyond remain valid: The main and constant ingredients of my position are the idea that the preservation of peace is indissolubly linked to the openness of society and the observance of human rights, as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the conviction that only the convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems can assure a fundamental and lasting solution to the problem of peace and the survival of mankind.[19] Solzhenitsyn’s fate has been quite different. After his return to Russia it became evident that his views, though also opposing the previous Communist regime, were not the same as those of Sakharov.

In December of 1995 he joined the Congress of Russian Communities, a highly nationalist group that wants a strong central government, a big army and protection for domestic firms. Most probably, Solzhenitsyn’s views were influenced by his disillusionment with the West and his faith in Russia’s own way of development. Therefore, it appears that the competition between Westernism and Slavophilism has come back to Russia after the end of Communism, with Andrei Sakharov representing the first movement and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn the second one. Bibliography Bibliography Ambrose, Stephen E., Rise to Globalism New York: Penguin Books, 1993 Bonner, Elena G., Alone Together New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1986 Erikson Jr., Edward E., Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980 Kodjak, Andrei, Alexander Solzhenitsyn Twayne Publishers, 1978 Johnson, Paul, Modern Times New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 1983 Rothberg, Abraham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Major Novels Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971 Sakharov, Andrei, Memoirs New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1991 Sakharov, Andrei, Moscow And Beyond New York: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1991 Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich New York: Bantam Books, 1963 Westwood, James, Endurance And Endeavour London: Oxford University Press, 1991 History Reports.