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Solzhenitsyn speaks: undoing the West in the Soviet Union.

The most influential voice of anit-American and anti-Western propaganda heard in the Soviet Union today is that of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Through a network of Russian-language radio stations, presses and publishing houses in the West, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist and his emigre followers criticze democracy as harshly as they do Communism. Journals from Kontinent in Munich to Veche and Vestnik in Paris, as well as YMCA Press and the newspaper Russkaya Mysl' in Paris, trumpet Solzhenitysn's wors and ideology. They use an effective distribution system to disseminate a steady stream of propaganda critical of the United States and Europe. Life in the West is worse than it is in the Soviet Union, they say; democracy is a corrupt system of government, the West is hostile to the people of the Soviet Union and it is doomed to collapse before the onslaught of Communism.

When the Soviet media propagate such ideas the people are skeptical. When they hear them from Solzhenitsyn and his circle of dissidents, they are more receptive. Moreover, the pulbications and broadcasts transmitting the Solzhenitsyn message rarely permit any opposing views to be heard.

A final touch of irony is that all these outlets are financed by U.S. government funds or by private donations from staunch anti-Communists in the West. In the mistaken belief that Solzhenitsyn and his supporters constitute the sole legitimate voice of dissent, those backers have given them almost complete con trol over what is transmitted to the people of the Soviet Union.

Consider Radio Liberty, the U.S. government-run news and information station that is heard in the Soviet Union. Last August, the station broadcast an anti-Semitic passage from Solzhenitsyn's novel August 1914. That was not the first time it had carried such sentiments expressed by him and others. The station also provides a platform for the novelist's emotional antidemocratic views. In December 1982 it broadcast a speech in which Solzhenitsyn castigated Western democracy as a system "bordering on choas, on state treason, on the right to freely destroy one's own country."

In contrast to the well-funded Solzhenitysn apparat, democratic emigre groups lack financial resources and have few publications and poor distribution in the Soviet Union. Because they are underfinanced, their journals tend to be short-lived. The market for Russian-language political literature is too small to support them, so they must depend on subsidies.

Unlike Solzhenitsyn, who devotes all his energy to castigating the West and Western-oriented democrats in past and present-day Russia, the media organs loyal to him continue to criticize the Soviet system. Their Western sponsors are apparently unaware that criticsim of the regime carries little weight among the Soviet people. (Twenty or thrity years ago it was another matter.) The people are influenced by statements like this by Solzhenitysn:

Today's Western society, ever more consumer-oriented, disillusioned with work, hedonistic, with broken families, addicted to drugs, atheistic and paralyzed by terrorism, has exhausted its vital force, has lost its spiritual health, and cannot survive in its present form.

Most Soviet emigres would say the opposite: If anything, most people in the West work too hard; it is the Russians who are disillusioned with work. Solzhenitsyn's diatribe totally ignores reality--and this from a man who became famous for his call "not to live by lies."

But how can can most Russians properly assess his opinions when they know so little about life in the West? On another occasion, he wrote that Soviet emigres in the United States have witnessed "the absence of elementary state order" and "the destruction of the school and moral destruction of children." Even a Soviet propagandist wouldn't go that far.

Solzhenitsyn's associate Vladimir Maksimov, editor of the journal Kontinent, believes that while the process of social decay is reversible in the Soviet Union, in the West the situation is hopeless. He asks:

Are we to assume the responsibility for dooming the future Russia to that same fate [the fate of the West] and once more finding ourselves in an atmosphere of spiritual decay, before the doors of churches standing empty, before a new and already irreversible degeneration?

The overwhelming majority of thinking people in the Soviet Union used to believe that democracy was the only alternative to the totalitarian regime. In 1974, before he emigrated, Solzhenitysn himself acknowledged:

Among Soviet citizens possessing an independent turn of mind, it is almost universally held that what our society needs is FREEDOM and a multi-party parliamentary system. This view is so unanimous that it even seems indecent to object to it (in unofficial circles, of course). This almost complete unanimity is a result of our traditional passive imitation of the West.

Solzhenitsyn and his acolytes, financed by Western anti-Communists, are now telling Soviet citizens that they must reject freedom and a democratic political system because those things have brought the West to a state of "irreversible degeneration."

Of particular comfort to the Soviet regime is the message of Solzhenitsyn and his group that the United States is hostile toward the people of the Soviet Union. In a letter to President Reagan dated May 3, 1982, and broadcast on Radio Liberty, solzhenitsyn elabroate on that belief:

Some American generals propose destroying the Russian population selectively by means of a nuclear strike . . . . Here manifests itself that hostile attitude towards Russia as such, towars the land and the people, outside the state context, that is characteristic of a considerable part of educated American society, of American financial circles, and, alas, even of your advisors.

On another occasion, this time in an emigre journal, he wrote, "Here . . . one may be certain of the reaction [of the West]: the Russians must be destroyed!" And so on, from one utterance to the next. The Russian-language media disseminate such vies undiluted to the Soviet Union.

It is important to understand that Solzhenitysn's anti-Western propaganda has an effect even on that majority of independent-minded people in the Soviet Union who do not share his views. It is difficult for them to imagine that he could now be living by lies in the West. There is a Russian proverb that says "horseradish is no sweeter than radish." Is it worth exchanging the Communist radish for a bourgeois-democratic horseradish? Particularly when the horseradish is on its way out or, as Solzhenitsyn puts it:

It leaves a tragi-comical impression how the pluralists [democratic dissidents] bring along their complaints and hopes and lay them at the feet of the West, blinded to the fact that the West is itself on the verge of perishing and is no longer capable of defending itself.

I left the Soviet Union in the late 1972, and I shudder to think about the changes that have taken place in the minds of Soviet citizens since then. When I was there, no thoughtful person had any doubts about democracy, about the superiority of the Western way of life, about the strength of the West. Now, thanks to Solzhenitsyn and his assistants, and the media that work with them, nearly all have their doubts. I fear that those doubts contirubte to the protracted and cowed passivity of Soviet society and to the suppression of opposition movements. The nationalistic and anti-Semitic propaganda of Solzhenitsyn and his emigre sympathizers serves only to divide the Soviet Union's multinational society, aiding the authorities in their policy of divide and rule.

Because Solzhenitsyn commands such authority in the Soviet Union, each of his anti-Western adn defeatist utterances requires a rebuttal in the same issue of the newspaper or journal or on the same radio program. Instead, the anti-Soviet media have created a Solzhenitsyn personality cult. All his statements are greeted by panegyrics in typical Soviet style. He is referred to, as Stalin was, by his first name and patronymic, often without his surname: Aleksandr Isaevich teaches, calls upon, states and so on. The adjectives "great," "wise" and "uncompromising" garland his name. His articles, accompanied by large photographs, are set in bold type and featured as special supplements.

Impressed by "the prophet's" might, more and more Soviet emigres are joining pro-Solzhenitsyn groups. That in turn increases the influence of their anti-Western and defeatist propaganda on people in their homeland.

The journal Strana i mir, which describes itself as liberal-democratic, was founded recently with solid financial support from American and other Western donors, but it has closed its pages to polemics against Solzhenitsyn and other anti-Western emigres. Even independent commercial Russian-language publications in the West are afraid to publish such rebuttals.

At present, little can be done to insure that every anti-Western or antidemocratic ultterance of Solzhenitsyn and company receives an immediate reply in the anti-Soviet media. A long-term program is needed to enlist the services of authoritative specialists, both Western and emigre, to write and distribute political literature analyzing and refuting Solzhenitsyn's charges.

Soviet propaganda would be toothless were it not for the support of Solzhenitsyn's "fifth column" in the West. How can Solzhenitsyn not realize what he is doing? Only a psychologist could say. The result, however, is quite clear. The goal of Russian nationalism is to oust decrepit Communism and become the protector and aggrandizer of a "great, single, indivisible Russia." But that imperial dream is incompatible with democracy. Consequently, advocates of democracy in the West are anathema to the Russian nationalists and must be discredited to the people of the Soviet Union. Lasting peace can come only if Soviet society emerges from its state of paralysis and if an indigenous mass democratic movement like Poland's Solidarity comes into being. Solzhenitsyn's propaganda can only discourage such a development.

Will Western leadrs see the light? How can they not realize what Solzhenitsyn is doing? Does his self-proclaimed anti-Communism cause them to trust him blindly? Or could it be that they are not interested in defeating the "empire of evil" but in preserving it as a bogyman? If so, what better way to do so than to underwrite Solzhenitsyn's propaganda?
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Title Annotation:Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn criticizes western democracy
Author:Belotserkovsky, Vadim
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 16, 1985
Words:1643
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