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Solzhenitsyn Buried in Moscow

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 6, 2008; 8:54 AM

MOSCOW, Aug. 6 -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel laureate who chronicled the horrors of the Soviet Union's prison camp system, was buried Wednesday in the cemetery of Moscow's Donskoy Monastery, the resting place of some of Russia's leading writers and philosophers.

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Solzhenitsyn, who died of heart failure Sunday at the age of 89, expressed the wish to be buried at the monastery five years ago, according to Russian media reports.

The burial took place after a solemn Russian Orthodox service, and the funeral was attended by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who broke off a vacation on the Volga River so he could be there.

Medvedev laid a bunch of dark-red roses at the foot of Solzhenitsyn's open coffin. Solzhenitsyn, a veteran of the Red Army, was buried with military honors, including a gun salute. There were no eulogies.

On Tuesday, mourners braved heavy rain to file past the open coffin containing Solzhenitsyn's body, which lay at the Russian Academy of Sciences flanked by an honor guard.

"I admired him for his internal honesty and his willingness to stand up very intensively for his own views," said Gennady Malinka, 68, general director of a small engineering company, who began to weep as he described his affection for the writer. "Of course nothing is eternal, but I hope every generation will have a person such as him."

A large portrait of Solzhenitsyn was placed at the head of the coffin at the viewing; the writer's wife, Natalia, and sons stood to the side. Among the mourners paying their respects were former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who placed a bouquet of red roses at the foot of the coffin before speaking with Solzhenitsyn's widow. Solzhenitsyn has been the subject of glowing tributes, including long, respectful reports on state-controlled television. But there is little sense of national grief for one of the giants of 20th-century literature.

The large police presence and barriers for crowd control around the academy at the public viewing suggested that the authorities were expecting many more people than actually came. Officials said thousands of people attended. Many were elderly.

"It's a disgrace so few people came," said Tatiyana Nikolayeva, 59, a retired civil servant. "You get the impression that the younger generations know nothing about him."

Indeed, for some of the younger generation Solzhenitsyn was an entry in a school textbook, if that, and a hero only to their grandparents. "I may have read something by Solzhenitsyn in school, but I don't remember," said Alexei Tulsky, 32, a bank clerk in Moscow. "I don't know him, so why should I go and pay last respects to him?"

Solzhenitsyn spent 20 years in exile, much of it in the United States. When he returned to Russia in 1994, he was dismayed by Russia's wild capitalism and, later, its feverish consumerism. To the consternation of some in the country's small opposition, he warmed to Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008, viewing him as agent of the country's return to greatness.

In Solzhenitsyn's writing, both fiction and nonfiction, he took an unflinching look at the Soviet prison system. He shot to fame with the publication in 1962 of "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," an unsparing exposé of life in a prison camp. Solzhenitsyn knew that life firsthand, having been arrested in 1945 and sentenced to eight years after he criticized Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a letter he wrote from the front during service with the Red Army.

Among his most famous works is the "The Gulag Archipelago," a monumental account of the experiences of Solzhenitsyn and other inmates of the Soviet Union's vast network of prison camps.

Some communists continued Tuesday to rail against it and Solzhenitsyn's other exposés. A commentary in Pravda, the communist newspaper, called "The Gulag Archipelago" a "bucket of tendentious muck" and accused the writer of "biological anti-Sovietism."

"He became one of the main battering rams in destroying both the state and nation. . . . That is why he is being applauded so rapturously by both Russian President Medvedev and U.S. President Bush!" Pravda wrote.


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