After an announcement yesterday awarding him the Nobel Prize for literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn made a statement which, in effect, dares the Kremlin to shut him out of the country. He said: “I am grateful for the decision. I accept the prize. I intend to go and receive it personally on the traditional day as far as this will depend on me.”
When Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958, the Kremlin told him to go to his “capitalist paradise” if he wanted to – but made it clear that he need not bother to come back. Similar threats have been made to Solzhenitsyn more recently.
Pasternak replied, in a letter to Khrushchev “I am linked with Russia by my birth, life, and work. I cannot imagine my fate separate from and outside Russia.” He declined the award, remained at home, and was virtually hounded to death.
Last year, after Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Writers’ Union, the Moscow Literary Gazette said: “Nobody is going to hold Solzhenitsyn and prevent him from going away, even if he desires to go where his anti-Soviet works and letters are received with such delight every time.”
Solzhenitsyn had, in effect, replied to this when he rejected his detractors’ claim that his views had somehow been inspired from abroad. He said: “I have never been abroad, but I do know that I don’t have time enough in my life to learn about life there. For my entire life, I have had the soil of my homeland under my feet. I hear only the pain of my homeland. I write only about my homeland,”
Presumably, Solzhenitsyn was aware yesterday of the possibility that if he leaves Russia to collect his prize, he might never be allowed in again. Perhaps he is content to leave the decision to the Kremlin – and to leave the Kremlin, if it does shut him out of his “homeland,” to the tender mercies of history.
The name of the official who called Pasternak a “pig,” is now all but forgotten. But Pasternak, like Solzhenitsyn, will be remembered when many politicians of their time do not rate a footnote in history books.
The Nobel Prize for literature, which carries an award of £32,00, is normally announced in the second half of October, but the decision was speeded to avoid political pressure on the Swedish Academy of Literature, which makes the choice.
A great many writers in various countries have “lobbied” for Solzhenitsyn, and in so far as the opinions of such people are taken into account, the award should clearly have gone to him. But it has also been argued that the choice of Solzhenitsyn would he interpreted as a political act, and there was some reason to expect that the Soviet Union might have mounted within the next few weeks a propaganda campaign that could have exceeded in venom and bitterness the campaign directed against Pasternak.
Also Solzhenitsyn’s supporters would, no doubt, have intensified their own campaign. To avoid this, the academy made its decision yesterday. The Swedish Academy’s citation says that the award was made to Solzhenitsyn “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.”
Solzhenitsyn, who is 51, said in Moscow yesterday that he was quite well. “The journey won’t hurt my health,” he declared.