Alexander Solzhenitsyn (photo, from bbc.co.uk), the Russian author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, who exposed Stalin’s prison system in his novels and spent 20 years in exile, has died near Moscow, at the age of 89.
In recent years, the Nobel laureate had suffered from high blood pressure. One Russian news agency quoted his son Stephan as saying that his father died of heart failure, while another agency quoted literary sources as saying he had suffered a stroke.
Stephan told Itar-Tass that his father died in his home in the Moscow area, where he had lived with his wife Natalya, at 2345 local time (1945 GMT) on Sunday.
Mrs Solzhenitsyn told Moscow Echo radio her husband lived “a difficult but happy life”.
When he returned to Russia, Mr Solzhenitsyn wrote several polemics on Russian history and identity.
Dmitri Medvedev, Russian president, sent his condolences to the writer’s family, said a Kremlin spokesperson.
Mikhail Gorbachev (photo) said that Mr Solzhenitsyn works “changed the consciousness of millions of people”. He played a key role in undermining Stalin’s totalitarian regime, said former Soviet leader, whose reforms led to the end of communism in the country.
Prisoner then exiled
In World War II, Mr Solzhenitsyn served as a Soviet artillery officer, and was decorated for his courage, but in 1945 he was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter. As a result, he spent the next eight years in the Soviet prison system, or Gulag. Then he was internally exiled to Kazakhstan, where he was successfully treated for stomach cancer.
He became a celebrity in 1962, during the post-Stalin political thaw, for his publication of the novella Denisovich, an account of a day in a Gulag prisoner’s life.
Yet, out of favour again for his work within a decade, the writer awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize for Literature, was being harassed by the KGB secret police.
In the West, the first of the three volumes of Archipelago was published in 1973. It is a detailed account of the systematic Soviet abuses from 1918 to 1956 in the vast network of its prison and labour camps.
Because of it, he was denounced as a traitor, sparking a furious backlash in the Soviet press.
He was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the country by the Soviet authorities, early in 1974.
He completed the other two volumes of Archipelago in Vermont, in the US where he settled and lived as a recluse, railing against what he saw as the moral corruption of the West.
Back in Russia
Unlike other exiles, Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not return to Russia immediately upon the collapse of the USSR in 1992, scathing of Boris Yeltsin’s brand of democracy.
He came back to Russia in 1994, which was a dramatic affair, as he travelled in slowly by land from the Russian Far East.
Then-Russian president Vladimir Putin later embraced him, presenting him with Russia’s State Prize.
The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says there was significant irony in the fierce critic of Soviet repression being hailed by a former senior officer of the KGB.
Mr Solzhenitsyn’s death was described as a “heavy loss for Russia” by Mr Putin.
Controversy was stirred by Mr Solzhenitsyn’s latter works, which included essays on Russia’s future. And in 2000, he examined the position of Jews in Russian society and their role in the Revolution in his last major work, Two Hundred Years Together.