The Russian language and its literature developed among many Free Nations in Old Russia, which were later united under the umbrella of the Soviet Union. Under the conditions obtaining at the time, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union proposed a partial solution of the National Question.
Around the 1830’s, a poetic age opened up in Russia. Writers like Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov ushered in a literary culture that was as lasting as it was profound. In the twentieth century, leading figures of Russian literature included internationally recognized poets, playwrights, novelists and dramatists. The more prominent ones are Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhamatova and prose writers like Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokhov and novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died recently and was buried impressively. All through his life, he evaluated culture, statecraft, art and stressed the role of the writer in awakening popular consciousness.
After the renowned trade unionists, Dr. Tunji Otegbeye and Comrade Wahab Goodluck successfully paved the way for aspiring Nigerian students to study in the then Soviet Union, many of us went. I was a thankful beneficiary (1962-68). One had to learn the Russian language and literature as a condition precedent, before embarking on one’s chosen field of study.
During that tortuous process of language study, I had to read, in Russian, most of the above-named authors. To do so in Russian was more exhilarating than in their English versions. Translations only approximate to the real meanings of literary texts. I always praise translators because they spread knowledge which otherwise would have been unavailable to many people.
Russian literature can be examined under the following headings; early history,petrine era, golden era, silver age, Soviet era, post-Soviet era and émigré Russian literature. The émigré genre is more robust, critical and iconoclastic. Church Slavonic language replaced the more evocative Old “RUSKY YAZIK”. The first colloquial Russian literary work was the autobiography of Arch priest Awakum. It laid the foundation for liturgical writings in Russia.
Peter the Great, who has probably re-incarnated as Vladimir Putin, opened Russia to Western civilization. This led to the flourishing of literary activities throughout the golden age and the silver age. The result of the exposure of Russia to the Western way of life can be felt in St. Petersburg till today. The Russian nobility took their freedom too far. It was the libertine philistinism of the Russian Kulaks and “Russian Nobility” that led to the Great October Socialist Revolution in 1917.
Soviet literature had a definite ideological dimension, which put non-conformists like Alexander Solzhenitsyn in jeopardy. This was why I was very elated when I witnessed his dignified burial, with the Church of God, the political leadership and Russian intelligentsia, in attendance. Now, he lies among his own clan, dissidents, poets, philosophers and historians. No-one can trouble him any more.
The Soviet system, at the height of its glory, attempted to cater for citizens. It was, however, a very ambitious project, which essentially overlooked the frailties of human nature. Those at the helm of affairs often succumbed to the weaknesses common to men and women in societies.
The prevailing agitation among the other East European states, the discontent within Russia, found expression in the literary disquisitions of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He saw through the policies of trying to create a “New Man,” who would live in a socialist nirvana. He vociferously opposed a society that was perching on ill-advised programmes and projects and denounced the mechanisms of their implementation. The Soviet system thrived on material pursuits, unity, solidarity and internationalism. Soviet social attitudes were shaped by its historical experiences. The system would have succeeded if it was not isolated by the West, in every material particular.
After Mikhail Gorbachev introduced “perestroika and glasnost, new humanistic values were re-introduced in Russia. This facilitated the return of Alexander Solzhenitsyn to Russia. He became very relevant in the new thought formation that has shaped Russia’s moral and political force.
It is not true that Solzhenitsyn hated communism, as some ill-informed scholars have said. He was a communist cadre but disagreed with the Soviet Communist party on ideological issues. He was particularly miffed by Stalin’s hard attitudes and the attendant brutality that ensued during Russia’s dark days, which he captured in his books entitled, “The Gulag Archipelago” and “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisova”. He criticized the West for its timid response to Stalin’s brutal rule. He was repulsed by the unethical and hedonistic culture in America and how the debauchery received positive reviews in mass culture literature. The promotion of mass culture hits on television has become a distinctive feature of Euro-American cultural traits. The hedonistic film, “Big Brother Africa,” is an attempt to transmit the despicable culture of the West to a gullible continent.
Just like Gramsci warned the Italian fascists that their policies would lead Italy to ruin, so Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned the West and the Soviet Union about the reckless use of power in an effort to maintain their hegemony world-wide. He pointed out that imperial traditions are not immutable and everlasting and so, Soviet dogmatism could hinder harmonious living in their satellite East European states and that America could antagonize the world. Solzhenitsyn applauded the formation of new socialist states and the successes of the national liberation movements. He saw the existence of NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Organization as the manifestation of some peoples’ evil minds because the institutions would escalate tensions in the world. The Cold War did take its toll on material and human resources and it has left the world with dangerous weapons of man’s annihilation.
As a voice that cut the West and the East to size, it was natural for Solzhenitsyn to be celebrated in mellowed tones. His burial was dignified, far from the Gulag Archipelago, in a serene setting, where the turbulent spirits of dissidents and bearers of truth find eternal repose. His literary works will continue to remind mankind that despotism, wickedness and hegemonic politics have limitations which are imposed by TIME.
He did not have an army but with his “rychka”, he sowed the seed of awareness that politicians should not be allowed to destroy the Sons and Daughters of GOD, in pursuit of antiquated rivalries and narrow interests.
In the last eight years, war has become an instrument of national policy. It all started with an exaggerated illusion that one can wish democracy into existence in ancient kingdoms, without their consent. It has now come full circle in Georgia. We must evolve a new environmental oncology that would bio-remediate international relations.