Alexander Solzhenitsyn is the Nobel Prize-winning Russian author whose trilogy on Stalin's prison camps, "The Gulag Archipelago," has made him a symbol of internal opposition to the Soviet government. When he was allowed to emigrate to the United States in 1975, then-President Gerald Ford, on the advice of his secretary of state, Henry A. Kissinger, declined to meet with him. At the time, Ronald Reagan and his supporters bitterly attacked Ford for this snub.
Last Tuesday, President Reagan entertained eight former citizens of the Soviet Union at a lunch in the White House. All eight had been active in the human rights movement in the U.S.S.R., and many of them had served prison terms as a result. Reagan had hoped to include Solzhenitsyn in the luncheon party, but Solzhenitsyn declined. At the end of the week, Solzhenitsyn released a copy of his letter to Reagan turning down the invitation. The following is the text of that letter.
Cavendish, Vt., May 3, 1982
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT:
I admire many aspects of your activity, rejoice because the United States at last has a president such as you, and I unceasingly thank God that you were not killed by the villainous bullets.
But I never tried to obtain the honor of being received at the White House either under President Ford (the issue arose on their side without my being involved), or later. During the past months indirect inquiries reached me through different channels concerning the circumstances under which I would accept an invitation to the White House. I always answered that I would be prepared to go for a substantive conversation with you, in a setting which would make an effective, in-depth exchange of views possible, but not for a merely formal ceremony. The life span at my disposal does not leave any time for symbolic encounters.
It was not, however, a personal meeting with you that was announced to me (by a telephone call from an adviser, Mr. (Richard) Pipes), but a luncheon including ,emigre politicians. From the same sources the press publicized that it is to be a luncheon for "Soviet dissidents."
But a writer and an artist belongs neither to the first group nor to the second in the Russian mind. I cannot allow myself to be placed in a category which is not mine. Moreover, the fact, the form and the date of the reception were established and handed over to the press before I was informed of them. Even up to this very day I have not received any clarification, not even the names of those among whom I have been invited for May 11.
It is even worse that the White House's variations and hesitations were publicized by the press in advance, and in so doing the reason was indicated as to why a personal meeting with me was considered undesirable, in terms that have not been denied or corrected by the White House: allegedly I "have become a symbol of an extreme Russian nationalist position." Such a wording is offensive for my fellow countrymen to whose suffering I have dedicated my entire life as a writer.
I am not at all a "nationalist": I am a patriot. This means that I love my country and therefore well understand other people's love for theirs. I have declared publicly on many occasions that the vital interests of the peoples of the U.S.S.R. demand an immediate stop of all Soviet attempts to conquer the globe.
If individuals thinking as I do come to power in the U.S.S.R., their first action would be to withdraw from Central America, from Africa, from Asia, from Eastern Europe, leaving all these nations to their own untrammeled fate. Their second step would be to cease the deadly arms race and to direct all the nation's forces toward healing the internal, almost century-long wounds of an almost dying population. Without any doubt they would throw wide open the exit gates for those who wish to emigrate from our hapless country.
But how surprising: All this does not suit some of your close advisers! They want something different. They define such a program as "extreme Russian nationalism." And some U.S. generals suggest destroying selectively the Russian population by an atomic assault.
It is strange how Russian national consciousness inspires the greatest fear in the world today for the rulers of the U.S.S.R. -- and within your entourage. It is the revelation of a hostility to Russia as such, to her people and to the country as distinct from the state structure, which is characteristic of a significant part of the American educated community, American financial circles and, alas, even of some of your advisers. Such a frame of mind is pernicious for the future of both our nations.
Mr. President, it is hard for me to write this letter. But I think that if, anywhere, a meeting with you were deemed undesirable because you are an American patriot, you would also feel insulted.
When you are no longer president, if you ever happen to be in Vermont, I cordially invite you to come and visit me.
Since this episode has already been given a wide and distorting publicity and it is highly probable that the reasons for my nonparticipation also will be distorted, I fear that I shall be compelled to publish this letter. Please forgive me.
Respectfully and sincerely yours,