This Date's Issues:
Johnson's Russia List
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28 February 1998
[Note from David Johnson:
1. Harley Balzer: Re 2084-Yeltsin/Middle Class.
2. RIA Novosti:THE DEVELOPMENT OF SMALL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS BOUND
TO BECOME A MAJOR PRIORITY IN RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC POLICY, CHAIRPERSON
OF THE STATE COMMITTEE ON SUPPORT OF SMALL BUSINESSES IRINA KHAKAMADA
3. John Varoli (RFE/RL): 'Last Great Moral Authority' Speaks Out.
4. Sam Ruben: WWII: If USSR lost.
5. AP: Yeltsin Fires 3 Cabinet Members.
6. AP: MITCHELL LANDSBERG, Russia Communists May Splinter.
7. Krasnaya Zvezda: Vladimir KUZAR, WASHINGTON OUT TO SNATCH EX-SOVIET
STATES. It is distributing them between different commands.
8. New York Times: George Steiner, In Exile Wherever He Goes.
Solzhenitsyn survived the gulag, survived cancer, survived America.
But the new Russia may yet do him in. (Book review of ALEXANDER
SOLZHENITSYN: A Century in His Life, by D. M. Thomas).
9. RIA Novosti: ECONOMIC GROWTH REQUIRES GREATER STATE REGULATION,
BELIEVES PETERSBURG GOVERNOR VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV.
10. AP: Russian Olympians To Owe Taxes.]
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998
From: BALZER@guvax.acc.georgetown.edu (Harley Balzer)
Subject: Re: 2084-Yeltsin/Middle Class
It is nice to see that Boris Nikolaevich has discovered the middle
class. But it would be even more propitious if he understood the
phenomenon. The Russian President seems to think that the middle class
consists solely of small businesspersons. This was not true in Russia
before 1917, when professionals outnumbered the commercial and
industrial bourgeoisie. And it is certainly not true in the
post-industrial service economies that Russia is endeavoring to
If only the 850,000 small businesses are counted, there is not much of
a middle class. Anders Aslund has noted that this number (between
850,00 and 900,000 small businesses) has been essentially stagnant for
the past four years. Aslund also points out that the number of small
businesses in Poland is one for every ten people; in Russia, this
figure is one for every 60.
The new government agency to support small business, headed by Irina
Khakamada, is a worthy idea. But Ms. Khakamada's most recent proposal,
that the government pay Duma deputies to vote for tax reform, does not
augur well for the much-vaunted "rule of law" developing in Russia to
provide a climate supportive of business. More promising is the sort
of government-facilitated self-enforcement mechanisms described by
Timothy Frye in the equities market.
There is a sizable middle class emerging in Russia. Some of it is
composed of "off-the-books" entrepreneurs. But a larger share is made
up of the professional specialists in both "old" and "new"
professions. The Russian government ought to be thinking in much
broader terms than those the President's (and his close advisors')
Perhaps most important, middle class entrepreneurs who conform to the
sort of business and political ethics Khakamada's proposal represents
are not likely to form the basis for a democratic system.
For more on this, see my forthcoming article, "Notes on the
Post-Communist Middle Classes," in "Post-Soviet Affairs."
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SMALL ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS BOUND TO BECOME A MAJOR
PRIORITY IN RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC POLICY, CHAIRPERSON OF THE STATE
COMMITTEE ON SUPPORT OF SMALL BUSINESSES IRINA KHAKAMADA SAYS
February 26, 1998 /RIA NOVOSTI/--
A strategy for the development of small entrepreneurship is
bound to become a major priority in Russian economic policy,
chairperson of the State Committee on the Development of, and
Support for, Small Entrepreneurship Irina Khakamada said at
yesterday's press conference in Russian Information Agency. She
spoke in the full conviction that an enormous potential is
inherent precisely in small businesses, as stability in society
is impossible without them.
Telling journalists of the results of a hundred days of her
work in the capacity of chairperson of the state committee,
Irina Khakamada pointed out, among other things, that, thanks to
her committee's joining the work on the 1998 draft budget, a
paragraph of 100 million of re-denominated roubles for support
to small businesses appeared in it, and that a new variant of
the tax code submitted by the government for consideration by
the State Duma stipulates a simpler system of taxes on small
In addition to this, Khakamada said, the state committee
prepared a new variant of the draft Federal programme for state
support to small entrepreneurship in Russia for 1998-99, whose
chief objective will be the elimination of excessive regulation
of a small business market and the involvement of this sector
into the process of putting to use real material and financial
resources. According to her, the draft programme was approved
the day before at a meeting of the government's executive
commission chaired by Russia's First Deputy Premier Anatoly
Chubais. The chairperson of the state committee is confident
that the proposed programme will help overcome administrative
barriers in shaping a small business market and "legalise it to
the highest degree."
Irina Khakamada also mentioned among the important results
of her work as the committee's chairperson the preparation of a
Presidential decree on encouragement in the founding of credit
Russia: 'Last Great Moral Authority' Speaks Out
By John Varoli
St. Petersburg, 27 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Dmitry Likhachyov defies the
usual image of a powerful person. He is a peaceful, quiet man of modest
means; a 90-year-old, soft-spoken literary historian. Yet Likhachyov's is
without doubt one of the most authoritative voices in Russia.
When Likhachyov writes a letter to the Kremlin, officialdom pays careful
attention to what he has to say. President Boris Yeltsin at times acts on
Likhachyov's advice; at times he even cites Likhachyov's opinion as an
argument in debate.
A year ago, for example, the idea of a national television station
devoted to high culture was laughed at by many. But when Likhachyov added
his voice in support of the project, President Yeltsin took heed, and the
national Kultura station is now a reality (although it cannot yet be seen in
Likhachyov 's home city, St. Petersburg).
Likhachyov's influence derives from his moral authority as an individual
who did not give in to the Soviet system, and as a leading specialist in
Russian literature and culture who works at St. Petersburg's Institute of
He spent four years at the notorious Gulag camp SLON, better known to the
world as Solovki -- a former Russian Orthodox monastery on the White Sea's
Solovetski Islands that the Soviets turned into a prison for the country's
While Likhachyov has earned his stature, it is also a result of natural
processes. Most other giants of the anti-Soviet movement have died.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, meanwhile, has faded angrily from view with the
1995 canceling of his show on ORT Russian Public Television.
At 90, Likhachyov does not get out often but, last week, he was featured
at a press conference. Topics ranged from the burial of the Romanovs to
restitution of art looted during World War Two.
During the press conference, Likhachyov said: "I write to Yeltsin about
many questions and he reads my letters very carefully. Recently, I wrote
that it is necessary to give peace to the tsarist family. Bury the remains
in the place where Tsar Nicholas II wanted to rest in peace -- the Peter and
On the state of contemporary Russian culture, Likachyov is a rare voice
of optimism. In his words: "Russian culture is prospering as we are
returning to our ancient roots. Now there is the freedom to do what you want."
But he says he sees difficulties on the horizon. Here's how he put it:
"Culture needs financing and protection. The economic situation in the
country portends badly for the future of Russia's culture. The government
needs to support it."
Likhachyov said that the government's main task should be culture --
taking care of schools, libraries, museums and archives.
On World War II art booty, Likachyov supports Yeltsin. Likhachyov's words
again: "The president is correct in disagreeing with the Duma in its call to
ban any return of war trophies to Germany. This issue is a complicated
matter, that requires careful legal study. But as a victorious country we do
have the right to reparations. After all, the Germans attacked us and not we
For Likhachyov, however, the greatest problem in society is a growing
evil and anger, which must be combated by what he called "spreading good
feeling through raising the level of culture."
Likhachyov said: " A lot of jealousy is the result of people not
realizing themselves culturally. The level of culture needs to be raised."
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 1998
From: Sam Ruben <email@example.com>
Subject: WWII: If USSR lost
The best speculative fiction I have ever read on what would have been if
Nazi Germany beat USSR in WWII is Robert Harris' "Fatherland", which
presupposes a stalemate between US and Germany, the Americans financing
Russian terrorists out of Siberia, Great Britain under a puppet King
Edward VIII and his wife Queen Wallis (Churchill and Elizabeth having
fled to Canada), and a 12-nation EU based on the Reichsmark. A great
read and highly recommended.
Yeltsin Fires 3 Cabinet Members
28 February 1998
MOSCOW (AP) - President Boris Yeltsin fired three top members of his
administration today, three days after warning that he intended to fire the
``culprits'' responsible for Russia's economic woes.
Yeltsin's office announced that he fired his transportation and education
ministers, along with a deputy prime minister, Valery Serov.
The official reason given was that the ministers are moving to other,
unspecified jobs. But Yeltsin said Thursday that he intended to identify and
dismiss the officials who have mismanaged Russia's economy.
He issued the threat at the beginning of a government meeting to assess
Russia's 1997 economic performance, and said three cabinet members would lose
their jobs by the end of the meeting.
But Yeltsin abruptly walked out of the room before the meeting was over, with
all cabinet members still employed. The incident was the latest in a series of
seemingly erratic statements and actions by Yeltsin.
At that same meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had singled out
for criticism, saying he had failed in his mandate to build strong ties with
other former Soviet republics.
Neither the transportation minister, Nikolai Tsakh, nor the education
minister, Vladimir Kineylov, were specifically criticized at the meeting.
However, both oversee divisions of government that have been widely reproached
for failing to adapt to changing times.
Yeltsin frequently reshuffles his cabinet, and is known for laying blame on
others for failures that might otherwise be considered his own.
``Somebody has to answer for the current state of affairs,'' he said on
Russia Communists May Splinter
28 February 1998
By MITCHELL LANDSBERG
MOSCOW (AP) - As it nears its 100th birthday, the Russian Communist Party is
torn by an identity crisis that threatens to splinter its already weakened
The party whose pronouncements once carried the force of law seems uncertain
about what role it wants to play in the new Russia: Loyal opposition or
radical rabble-rouser? Partner of the government or enemy?
And with their ranks aging, the communists face tough decisions about how to
appeal to a new generation that distrusts the Marxist past and is more
interested in paychecks than politics.
In recent weeks, the Communist Party's leadership in the State Duma, the
house of parliament, has made overtures to Boris Yeltsin about joining him in
a coalition government - overtures that the president has rejected.
The proposals have caused cracks in the communists' vaunted party discipline.
Some members are questioning whether the leadership is selling out. And some
observers predict the cracks could lead the party to split in two.
``I think there is a real danger of such a split,'' said Nikolai Petrov, a
political analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
Perhaps it shouldn't seem surprising that the party of Lenin and Stalin is
having a rough time adjusting to life after the collapse of the Soviet Union
and its one-party rule.
In the West, the Soviet collapse was widely seen as the death of
proof that Soviet-style state socialism didn't work. In Russia, the party was
banned for a year after its hard-liners attempted a coup against Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.
Perhaps the real surprise is that the Communist Party is as much of a
Russia as it is today. It remains the biggest party in the Duma and still
draws strong allegiance in many parts of the country, particularly in the
southern ``Red Belt'' and among the elderly, who have fared worst under the
new market economy.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov gave Yeltsin a scare in the 1996
presidential election and is thought to be positioning himself now for a run
in the next election, in 2000.
But what is a communist these days? There is a hard core - both within the
party and in radical splinter groups - that is openly nostalgic for the Soviet
Union, totalitarian warts and all, and still regards the United States as an
Zyuganov treads a more moderate course, although he is notoriously difficult
to pin down. His brand of communism is based more on Russian nationalism than
Marxism, and he yearns for Russia to somehow reclaim its status as a great
Zyuganov insists he supports some market reforms and has support from some of
Russia's new capitalists. But asked recently if he could better be described
as a social democrat, he demurred. ``No, I'm a communist,'' he insisted.
Others, some within his own party, see him as something else: a pragmatist,
willing to do whatever is needed to gain power.
``He has a twofold pattern of behavior,'' noted Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage
When it suits him, Zyuganov attacks Yeltsin's government. But when it
parliamentary voting, he generally is willing to compromise with Yeltsin and
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Zyuganov was asked how
was willing to compromise his communist principles to claim a share of power.
``I will conduct dialogue with anybody in order to improve the situation, and
I think that now the conditions are favorable for a normal government so we
can choose a proper course,'' he said.
``We lack organizing qualities,'' he continued. ``Had we had echelons of
miners in Moscow from Kuzbass, from Vorkuta, from Rostov and from the Moscow
region, the government would have resigned long ago.''
Precisely the point, his more radical critics say: The party has a miserable
record of organizing its followers.
Anti-communists argue that the party has no effective support, just elderly
people nostalgic for the past.
One of the more prominent communists in the Duma, Vladimir Semago, noted the
Communist Party takes to the streets only two days a year - May Day and
Revolution Day - to rally its supporters and criticize the government. ``The
rest of the year we do nothing,'' he said in disgust.
Semago has said he hopes to form a new leftist movement and to run for
president in 2000. The Communist Party, first formed in Russia in the fall of
1898, has to find a new message for a new era, he said. Marx and Lenin may
have been sages, he added, but theirs was a message better suited to the 19th
century than the 21st.
``We have to revise what we still think will be useful,'' he said.
One of the ironies of Russia's political system is that even the communists'
foes are themselves former communists - men who once devoted their life to
Petrov, of the Carnegie Endowment, said he thought the new state symbol of
Russia, a two-headed eagle, was aptly chosen.
Sometimes, he said, ``It's hard to tell whether this guy or that guy is a
communist or a representative of the party of power. They are two heads of one
and the same eagle.
>From RIA Novosti
February 26, 1998
WASHINGTON OUT TO SNATCH EX-SOVIET STATES
It is distributing them between different commands
By Vladimir KUZAR
When a battalion of the US 82nd Airborne Division landed
during the Centrazbat-97 peace-keeping exercises, held in
Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, many observers pointed only to the
military-strategic nature of that action. But in fact it was a
unique operation in that it was the first time that the US
armed forces landed there after a non-stop transatlantic
However, the political side of that event was no less, and
probably even more important than the military one. The USA
demonstrated it abilities in case of a potential military
interference in the affairs of this region, far removed from US
national territory but having a vital interest for US
Many facts prove that the USA has been paying special
attention to Central Asian state. The Defence News weekly
correspondent Phillip Finnegan reported from Tashkent that
US-Uzbekistan military relations reached a very high level. The
first session of the US-Uzbek commission will be held soon to
discuss the prospects for political and military cooperation,
and possibilities for expanding US assistance in defence
conversion and training of Uzbek officers.
Pentagon emissaries are crowding the government and the
opposition in Tajikistan, offering them military assistance,
said a Russian officer. Unlike Russia, the USA is prepared to
pay for the training of Tajik military specialists. This year
the Centrazbat exercises will be held in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan
and Uzbekistan. And the USA will shoulder the bulk of related
expenses and dispatch a military group there, so as to have a
better look at the region.
The above are only a few of the proofs of the US military
presence in Central Asia, not to mention the economic expansion
of America there. Such US economic behemoths as Mobil and
Chevron seem to have settled for good there.
What attracts the USA to this region? Mineral resources,
of course. But this is not all. Washington is attracted to this
region also because of its geographical situation, which
provides the possibilities for controlling the situation in
China and Iran, countries which are of vital importance to the
USA. The secular governments of the Central Asian states give
the USA a chance to launch an active struggle against militant
Islamic fundamentalism, which Washington has defined as a major
But there is one more reason for persistent US
infiltration into the region. It is the desire to resist Russia
and its policy designed to strengthen cooperation with the
Russia still has enough capabilities to continue
developing as a geopolitical force and great power independent
of the West. And this does not suit Washington, which is trying
to reinforce US positions as the only superpower and create a
unipolar world led by the USA. The aim of the secret US policy
is destroy Russia as a great power, to deprive it of its
allies, to prevent it from normalising relations with the
ex-Soviet states which had been ruptured by the breakup of the
Soviet Union, and this policy has been pursued without much ado
with regard to Russia. In fact, it is based on the old slogan
of "containing and isolating the Soviet Union," which has been
geared to the new historic conditions.
That this is so has been proved by the actions of the USA
in Central Asia, situated in the soft southern underbelly of
Russia. Moreover, Washington has been trying to oust Russia
from all ex-Soviet states, to undermine its prestige as a
country capable of rendering assistance in settling conflicts
and to convince the local population that Russia as a great
power is out to persecute and suppress ethnic minorities.
With this aim in view, Washington has been exploiting the
ambitions of certain political leaders of the newly-free
states, militant nationalism, the absence of a clear-cut
Russian policy with regard to these states and Russia's
inability to play the role of the "moving force of integration"
in the economic, ideological and military spheres. Besides, the
USA is tempting these countries with material boons which the
USA could provide to these states if they dissociate themselves
Take the Baltic states, a region of special interest for
Russia. It is vital to Russia morally, as there are hundreds of
thousands of ethnic Russians there and the Russian government
cares for their rights. And it is vital to Russia economically,
since the key trade routes from Russia to the West pass through
the Baltic states. But the most important element is national
security. Suffice it to look at the geographic map to see that
Estonia and Latvia are situated only a short distance away from
Moscow, St. Petersburg and other vital centres of Russia.
That is why Moscow calls for turning the Baltic region
into a zone of stable development, security and stability.
Russia stands for very close, neighbourly and mutually
beneficial relations with the regional states. And it is
categorically against the admission of Latvia, Lithuania and
Estonia to NATO. It has advanced practical and far-reaching
proposals on regional confidence-building measures in the
economic, humanitarian and military spheres. But most of them
were coldshoudered by the Baltic leaders.
One of the reasons for this attitude of the Baltic
politicians to Russia is the persistent actions undertaken by
the USA. Washington is using every opportunity to set the
Baltic states and Russia at loggerheads and deliver a blow at
Russia's interests in the region. One graphic proof of this is
the signing of the partnership charter by the USA and the
Baltic states in January, which actually paved the way for the
Baltic states to NATO. This means that in a few years NATO
(above all American) servicemen will appear in the barracks, at
air defence stations and naval bases where Russian boys served
only a short while ago.
There is one more region where the USA has been building
up its influence and trying to limit the role of Russia. It is
the Transcaucasus and the adjacent Caspian Sea. Stewart
Eisenstat, Assistant Secretary of State for Economy and
Business, believes that the key foreign policy interests of the
United States have been put at stake there. And Washington is
doing its best to reliably protect these interests.
For example, in June last year, a few days before the
decision was made on the delivery route of Caspian oil,
Washington discussed the possibility of dispatching US troops
for a peace-keeping mission in the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict
over Nagorno-Karabakh. In November last year the Pentagon
seriously discussed which command should incorporate this
region into the zone of its responsibility.
The "candidates" were the European Command, whose zone of
responsibility includes the Middle East, and the Central
Command, "responsible" for the Gulf. The solution of this
problem will become the first step towards the establishment of
regular contacts between the military of the USA and that
region, regular joint exercises and programmes of training
military specialists, wrote The US News and World Report.
Naturally enough, this US attention to the Transcaucasus
could not go unnoticed in the region. And the regional
countries started criticising Russia more often, accusing it of
"imperial ambitions," and demanding that the Russian presence
be limited there. For example, Tbilisi sometimes says that
there is no need for the Russian troops to be deployed in
Georgia, and that the Russian peace-keepers in the
Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone should be replaced with the
troops of other states.
So far, Georgia's rejection of the Russian peace-keepers
has not been supported by the UN or the USA. There is a number
of reasons which prevent the White House from supporting them.
First, the Republican Congress regularly demands the reduction
of the US peace-keeping contingent. Second, there is always the
danger that peace-keepers may be killed, which has an extremely
negative effect on US society. And third, Washington is not
ready yet to openly stand up against Russia and its interests
in this region. But this will change with time, because the
Transcaucasus is a very juicy piece of cake.
The USA military-political infiltration in Ukraine and
Belarus is proceeding at a slower pace, although there are
nuances in this situation. For example, Washington has
established a network of contacts with Ukraine, including in
the military sphere, but has hardly any military contacts with
Belarus. Washington's attempts to introduce an element of
antagonism in relations of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus come
across resistance on all sides, based on the historical
closeness of these three fraternal nations and sufficient
common sense of their political leaders. The USA is still angry
that it failed to undermine the creation of the Russia-Belarus
Union, although it is still weak organisationally. Add to this
the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership, which
the Russian deputies plan to ratify after the Ukrainian
parliament does so.
Not that Russia does not see the danger of the US policy
with regard to ex-Soviet states. No, this danger is mentioned
in the National Security Concept of Russia, which points out
that threats to national security are revealed in the attempts
of other states to hinder the strengthening of Russia, limit
its influence, infringe upon its vital national interests, and
weaken its positions in Europe, the Middle East, the
Transcaucasus and Central Asia. In his latest address to the
Federal Assembly, President Boris Yeltsin stressed that the key
priority of Russia's foreign policy is to develop all-round
cooperation and integration within the CIS and collaboration
with the other ex-Soviet states.
It appears that the Russian top echelons of power are
gradually getting rid of romantic illusions about relations
with the West and are more consistently protecting the dignity
and national interests of the country. Regrettably, unlike the
USA, Russia is acting too passively in the ex-Soviet states.
Its policy in relation to these countries is still regarded as
not very important, with priority attention given to the world
powers and the traditional spheres of influence of former
The recovery and strengthening of Russia's presence in the
ex-Soviet states, and the slowing down of trends unfavourable
to Russia there will be possible only if we pursue a consistent
and coordinated policy there, balancing the lineup of forces in
the region and the country against the actions of the USA. In
doing so, we should proceed from world development trends and
regard the economic factor as the basis of all relations.
It goes without saying that Russia cannot match the US
investment policy there. But it has some other advantages in
the development of cooperation with neighbouring states. One of
them is the historical link of our economies. In addition,
Russia has never based its relations with other countries on
unilateral advantages, which favourably distinguishes it from
the USA, which has always put mercenary interests above all
And lastly, Russia's military policy should be designed to
contain the infiltration of the USA into the ex-Soviet states
and to protect Russia's national interests there. The key
directions of this policy is the strengthening of cooperation
between the defence departments, the development of the CIS
collective security system, and the preservation of the Russian
military contingents on the territory of neighbouring states on
the basis of contracts.
Russia's military presence in the ex-Soviet states should
be ensured by its participation in peace-keeping operations and
exercises (above all those which are held under the Partnership
for Peace programme), the sale of Russian weapons and hardware
to these countries, and the training of specialists for their
Ex-Soviet states are the sphere of Russia's natural
long-term interests. We badly need stability, security and
cooperation on the entire ex-Soviet space. And all attempts to
oust Russia from that region, to infringe upon its legitimate
interests there, and to limit it to its borders should be
New York Times
March 1, 1998
[for personal use only]
Book review section
In Exile Wherever He Goes
Solzhenitsyn survived the gulag, survived cancer, survived America. But
the new Russia may yet do him in.
By GEORGE STEINER
A Century in His Life.
By D. M. Thomas.
Illustrated. 583 pp. New York:
St. Martin's Press. $29.95.
To use a Shakespearian image: during the late 1960's and throughout the
70's, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn bestrode the world like a colossus. The
winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature in October 1970, his expulsion
from Russia in February 1974, the publication in the West of ''The Gulag
Archipelago'' the same year, made him not only the world's most famous
writer but a spiritual guide, a prophet, an exemplar unrivaled since
Voltaire or Tolstoy. His every movement, his most occasional
pronouncements, were the object of frenetic attention in the news media.
Crowds blocked the airports at which Solzhenitsyn arrived. In the ''free
world,'' ''Cancer Ward'' and ''The First Circle'' sold by the million;
in Russia and in Eastern Europe, clandestine copies passed from hand to
hand, keeping fiercely alive ''hope against hope.''
Today, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lives in virtual isolation in a new
Russia, where younger people deride his very name or profess not to know
it. Abroad, references to his person and works are either distantly
respectful or hostile. His vast opus on World War I and the background
to the Russian Revolution, to which ''August 1914'' is only a prologue,
continues to grind onward, moving on the literary-historical horizon
like some improbable mastodon. Meanwhile, Solzhenitsyn has founded a
book prize in his own name, to reward the kinds of narrative and
ideology to which he adheres. Although the comparison is, at any
substantive level, absurd, there is about the aged and bitter titan more
than a touch of the later years of Ayn Rand.
How did this decline in stature and reputation come about? Is it
justified? Is it fair? Or is this implacable witness the victim of
misprision, of an arbitrary relegation as illicit as the one that led to
his incarceration in the hell of the Soviet camps and to his long years
of ostracism from a homeland passionately, almost liturgically beloved?
These questions make the present moment one both appropriate and
premature for revaluation. It may be too late to get certain problems
into the requisite perspective. It may be too early to judge a vast
textual output still in progress and a life as yet unquenched. There is
more than a hint of courage in D. M. Thomas's attempt at a chronicle in
As Thomas makes explicit, his portrayal in ''Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A
Century in His Life'' is founded on Michael Scammell's monumental 1984
biography. To it he adds documentary details that have come to light
with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a summary account of
Solzhenitsyn's works and days after his homecoming in 1994. Scammell's
record is resolutely lucid and straightforward. Thomas is a novelist, a
stylist of punchy, self-dramatizing prose and a Freudian in extremis. He
dwells on intimacies for which there can be no direct evidence. ''The
secret nape-shivering thrill of sexual contemplation,'' for example,
impels Solzhenitsyn to ''stuff in a hole'' his hidden manuscripts. It is
often difficult to distinguish between conversations for which there is
plausible testimony and those merely intuited by Thomas's busy
imaginings. In compensation, there are numerous narrative brilliancies
and the author's impassioned knowledge of Russian literature. He's
particularly enlightening, for example, on Solzhenitsyn's connection
both to Pushkin and to modern Russian poetry.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn came of age in a Soviet motherland scarred nearly
to extinction by revolutionary violence, civil wars of incalculable
barbarism, the compelled displacement of millions and the blackening
terrors of Leninism-Stalinism. During his first four years of life,
between 10 million and 25 million Russians died of hunger or through
violence. The south of Russia, the setting of Solzhenitsyn's childhood,
''was drowning in horror.'' Brought up by women (his father died before
he was born), the young Solzhenitsyn attended school in Rostov from 1926
to 1937. In the midst of chaos and repression, he benefited from a solid
education, notably in the sciences and mathematics. He wove a network of
intimate friendships. He dreamed of writing the ''big novel,'' fiction
on a Tolstoyan scale. In 1936, he met and fell in love with Natasha
Reshetovskaya, a fellow student. Thomas makes memorable the personal
epic of their marriage, from its fulfillment of lifelong needs to, at
the last, its desolation. (He also invokes the very different, yet at
key points analogous, marital career of Pasternak.)
The young Solzhenitsyn's Communism was crucial. By the time he graduated
in physics and mathematics from the University of Rostov he was a
convinced Leninist, committed to the amelioration of Russian life
through the absolute direction of a centralized state. Enlistment in the
Red Army in 1941 was an essential, indeed liberating, step.
Trained in artillery school, Lieutenant Solzhenitsyn was awarded the
Order of the Patriotic War after the ferocious counterattack that
liberated Orel in early August of 1943. January 1945 found him advancing
toward Berlin. In the grim cadence of battle, Solzhenitsyn's moral
imagination sprang to life. He began sketching a long poem, ''Prussian
Nights,'' in which he deplored the licensed savagery of the looting,
raping and killing visited on the conquered German population and
prisoners of war by the Soviet troops. Victory began to lose its aura.
With utter imprudence, he wrote letters to Natasha criticizing, in more
or less transparent terms, Stalin's criminal mismanagement of the war
and the sacrifice of millions of innocent lives. He was arrested at his
battery command in East Prussia on Feb. 9, 1945. The pilgrimage to the
Solzhenitsyn's own writings have told the tale incomparably. In turn,
his courage and genius for exact memory have released a flood of
corroborative material, making the word ''gulag'' one of the defining
markers of our century. But even when retold yet again, the bestiality
of the Stalinist killing machine loses nothing of its impact.
Although the very notion is grotesque, Solzhenitsyn's term in hell was
relatively mild. He was neither flogged to death in the K.G.B.
interrogation mill nor worked to extinction in the mines of Kolyma. He
was not sentenced in perpetuity. After a spell in clay pits and brick
factories, he was assigned to diverse forms of scientific research.
There were renewed episodes of manual slave labor, but on the whole
survival became possible in what Solzhenitsyn was to call the ''first
circle'' of the inferno. At times, there was even access to books and
technical journals. A number of Solzhenitsyn's fellow inmates were men
of intellectual stature. Both to them and to the humble, Solzhenitsyn's
exceptional moral authority and resilience became luminous. Occasional
meetings with Natasha were allowed from 1947 onward. But the strain on
the marriage began to grow unbearable. (Thomas's account of the whole
desolate story is insightful; he is the first to show how desperately
husband and wife tried to cling together under impossible
circumstances.) It was in that same year, after being shuttled between
detention centers, that the writer perceived the insane enormity of the
Stalinist penitential universe -- saw it as a vast black hole in the
fabric of history, with its own rituals, crazed logic and administrative
Released in 1953, Solzhenitsyn was exiled to the barrens of southern
Kazakhstan. There he overcame, under harrowing conditions, a bout of
cancer. Schoolteaching saw him through recurrent pain and solitude. In
1957 he was reunited with Natasha and began to teach nearer Moscow. Two
years later came the annus mirabilis: research for ''The Gulag
Archipelago'' gathered pace, ''The First Circle'' was drafted and a
short novel about daily life in a labor camp roughed out. The rest is
indeed history and more. Submitted pseudonymously to the great editor
Aleksandr Tvardovsky of the journal Novy Mir in 1961, and authorized,
somewhat mysteriously, by Khrushchev in October 1962, ''One Day in the
Life of Ivan Denisovich,'' published on Nov. 17, swept across Russia and
the world. Those competent to judge tell us that it remains
Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece as far as immediacy of language and
controlled narrative go. This almost unendurably lucid testimony marked
Russian consciousness as sharply as had the poetry of Pushkin or the
revelations of Dostoyevsky.
Fame seemed to compel Solzhenitsyn inward. The summons to witness, to
apocalyptic disclosure grew obsessive. The next 10 years saw a more and
more desperate cat-and-mouse game in which Solzhenitsyn strove to outwit
an increasingly vigilant, frequently hysterical censorship. Almost
everyone seemed apprised of his work in progress. At enormous personal
risk a group of women, the painter and journalist Olga Carlisle
magnificently among them, recopied, hid and finally smuggled
Solzhenitsyn's huge manuscripts abroad. Time and again, the K.G.B. was
on the verge of confiscating what copies there were or of dispatching
the writer and his faithful accomplices back to the gulag. But
Solzhenitsyn proved too cunning, too unyielding for his hunters. He had
become that special phenomenon in Russian spiritual history: ''the other
state.'' Only banishment would do.
Afraid of being betrayed into K.G.B. hands, nauseated by the lies of
European fellow travelers, Sartre especially, the grand survivor,
accompanied by his new family and some 1,400 pounds of luggage, came to
the United States. (In 1973 Solzhenitsyn had divorced Natasha and
married the mathematician Natalya Svetlova, with whom he had already had
two sons; a third was born later.) He chose the isolation of a Vermont
hamlet, where he spent 18 years, harnessed, almost monomaniacally, to
the composition of his World War I epic. The notorious commencement
address at Harvard on June 8, 1978, and the fracas it provoked,
converted Solzhenitsyn to bristling privacy. By the time he left for a
liberated Russia in 1994, he had come close to achieving invisibility.
What he could not foresee was that the best sellers in the Moscow to
which he returned were not ''The Gulag Archipelago'' but ''How to Become
a Happy Cat'' and ''Fifty Ways to Lose Weight.''
If anything, D. M. Thomas deals only circumspectly with Aleksandr
Solzhenitsyn's theocratic-agrarian ideology and his thirst for a
communal, in some ways medieval, Rus under the unblinking eye of a
vengeful God. To Solzhenitsyn, the Western ways of consumerism and
mass-market technocracy, with their frivolous secularism and shallow
tolerance, are ''liquid manure.'' Even in the hellholes of the gulag,
there flourished nobilities of the soul, sacrificial ideals, a closeness
to Christ and the saints, crassly denied in the fleshpots and hysterical
greed of an ''American century.'' Implicit in this world view is the
vexed issue of Solzhenitsyn's anti-Semitism. He sees the virus of
Communism-Bolshevism, though ultimately spawned by the Enlightenment and
what he takes to be the atheism of the French Revolution, infecting holy
Russia via Marx and his acolytes, so many of them Jews -- urban, at home
with money, ironic rationalists alien to the atavistic sacredness of the
soil. Sometimes Solzhenitsyn's guard drops terribly: he suggests that
the Gestapo tortured only to obtain information, whereas the K.G.B.
tortured for the joy of the thing. Thomas chooses to pass lightly over a
certain heart of darkness.
What matters is the extent of our continued indebtedness to ''Ivan
Denisovich,'' to the mapping of the gulag. At so many moments, what our
soiled age has had of conscience lay in this one man's angry keeping.
George Steiner's memoir, ''Errata,'' will be published later this month.
ECONOMIC GROWTH REQUIRES GREATER STATE REGULATION, BELIEVES
PETERSBURG GOVERNOR VLADIMIR YAKOVLEV
MOSCOW, FEBRUARY 28. RIA NOVOSTI - The experience of St.
Petersburg testifies that the enhancement of the influence of
the state in the financial recovery of industry and the creation
of conditions for the development of a competitive industry of
Russia are becoming strategic directions of economic growth,
Vladimir Yakovlev, governor of St. Petersburg and chairman of
the Federation Council committee on economic policy, declared in
an inclusive interview with a RIA Novosti correspondent,
commenting on the results of an enlarged meeting of the Russian
In his opinion, it is necessary for the state to intervene
in the solution of many of the problems facing the economy. This
involves, for example, the introduction of a state monopoly on
the production of alcohol. The governor is of the view that a
search for new methods, including the timely replacement of
inefficient managers, will help to carry out the restructuring
of enterprises and to solve the problem of nonpayments. "The
tendency for economic growth requires a substantial lowering of
the rates for the products and services of the natural
monopolies, which is also impossible without a volitional
decision of the state," said Yakovlev.
Russian Olympians To Owe Taxes
28 February 1998
MOSCOW (AP) - Russia's Olympic champions got more than a warm welcome when
they returned home this week. They also got a big tax bill.
Russian athletes are no longer exempt from paying taxes on all Olympic
earnings, the Moscow Times reported Friday.
They have to pay about 33 percent on money they've received from the Russian
Olympic Committee, their sponsors, and the Russian government - including a
special, $50,000 bonus President Boris Yeltsin promised for every gold medal.
``It's a shame to have to pay such a huge amount,'' Larisa Lazutina, who won
three gold medals at the Nagano games, was quoted as saying in Thursday's
edition of the Kommersant daily.
For her first gold medal alone, Lazutina received nearly $200,000 from
sponsors, the Russian Olympic Committee and the government, Kommersant said.
Still, Lazutina said, ``As a tax-paying citizen, I'll have to pay.''
The athletes are still exempt from taxes on prize money from the
Olympic Committee, the Moscow Times said. Athletes from some other countries,
including the United States, do not enjoy that exemption.
Russian athletes were given tax-free status in 1993 for their sports
but a tax code amendment the next year limited the exemptions, the newspaper
Olympic athletes are no longer required to be amateurs, except in certain