Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin led mourners paying tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn as the author, dissident and patriot lay in state inside the Russian Academy of Sciences today.
A military honour guard stood next to Solzhenitsyn’s open casket, located in a cavernous hall at the academy, as mourners filed by and placed long-stemmed flowers at the foot of the bier. The ceremony had many of the trappings of a state funeral.
Solzhenitsyn’s wife Natalia struggled to contain tears as she stood watch over her husband’s coffin with her sons, as mourners offered condolences. At one point, she bent at the coffin and kissed its edge.
Solzhenitsyn, who died at his home outside Moscow on Sunday at the age of 89 from a heart condition, is to be buried at the Russian capital’s Donskoi Monastery tomorrow.
For Russians today, Solzhenitsyn is a stern figure from an age gone by, a man whose legacy was as thorny and complicated as his personality.
Solzhenitsyn’s non-fiction trilogy, “The Gulag Archipelago,” published in the 1970s, shocked the Soviet elite, helped destroy lingering support for the Soviet experiment in the West and inspired a generation of dissidents inside the Soviet Union.
The response to Solzhenitsyn’s death was muted. The author, who spent 20 years of exile in the West following his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974, evoked little sympathy among those with fond memories of the Communist era.
Solzhenitsyn had also estranged himself from liberal reformers by embracing Putin’s efforts as president to roll back democratic reforms in Russia.