Iconic Russian Writer Solzhenitsyn Laid to Rest

ent-iconic-russian.jpgMOSCOW ~ Nobel Prize-winning Russian writer and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn was laid to rest in a historic Moscow monastery on Wednesday after an ornate church service attended by President Dmitry Medvedev.

The iconic writer, who spent eight years in the Gulag prison camps before devoting his life to documenting the horrors of Soviet rule, was buried in the shadow of a chapel in a ceremony broadcast live on national television.

Solzhenitsyn died of heart failure at his Moscow home on Sunday at the age of 89, prompting a stream of condolence messages from Russian and world leaders for a man credited with helping undermine Soviet power.

Hundreds of tearful mourners watched as his coffin was slowly lowered into the ground on a tree-lined plot in the 16th-century Donskoy Monastery.

After a funeral march played by a military band, Solzhenitsyn’s widow Natalya threw a handful of earth into the grave. Workers erected a plain wooden Orthodox cross 1.5 meters high.

“We will read and listen to him for a long time to come. Every one of his words is steeped in his own blood,” said Snezhana Krylova, a middle-aged teacher clutching a bouquet of yellow roses on her way to the funeral.

“We have to explain this to young people,” she added.

Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 and is best known for his massive study of the labor camps, The Gulag Archipelago, as well as novels like One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The First Circle.

He was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974 after the authorities found a manuscript of The Gulag Archipelago. The Soviet Union’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev eventually restored his citizenship in 1990.

After returning to Russia from the United States in 1994, the author eventually retired into seclusion to focus on his writing and was rarely seen during his final years.

“His ideas remain alive…. He is the father or the brother of all political prisoners,” Vitold Abankin, a poet who was a political prisoner for 12 years during the Soviet era, said during the funeral.

Earlier, President Medvedev laid a bunch of red roses by the writer’s feet, while others leaned to kiss his forehead.

Large wreaths were placed by the grave, including one from human rights group Memorial, which campaigns for former prisoners of the Soviet labor camps to receive pensions and for KGB archives to be opened up.

Solzhenitsyn selected the burial spot five years ago in a cemetery where many other leading anti-Soviet figures have been buried and he received special permission for it from Patriarch Alexy II, a church official said.

Medvedev led tributes by world leaders to the writer on Monday, with a condolence telegram to his family in which he praised “one of the greatest thinkers, writers and humanists of the 20th century.”

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