While the American media/political class chases its own tail in yet another meaningless "controversy" -- i.e., whether or not Bush's system of "disappearing" people without legal sanction into a secret prison network marked by brutality, torture and death should be described metaphorically as a "gulag" -- the man who immortalized the term made a rare public appearance this week.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn's TV interview garnered a few headlines in the Western press, which focused entirely on the writer's stringing critique of Putin's regime: "If they are going to take away our democracy, they can take away only what we have. But if we have nothing, then nothing can be taken away. We have already taken everything from the people...We have nothing that resembles democracy," Solzhenitsyn said, in AP's brief story.
He then went on to outline concrete steps that could be taken to build up genuinely democratic civic structures that would give ordinary people a true voice in ordering the affairs of state. Naturally, none of this was picked up by the Western media, which confined their coverage to a few moments of Putin-bashing -- artfully arranged with the usual ellipses to boil down a comprehensive argument into a few soundbites reflecting whatever might be the prevailing "conventional wisdom" of the day.
(That CW used to be: Putin good, we like him. Now it's: Putin bad, we don't like him. Of course, Putin today is what he's always been: a grim, remorseless apparatchik pushing his vision of an authoritarian state with capitalist elements, a well-muzzled opposition and a reliance on the unchecked power of the "security organs" to maintain order. No doubt this is what Bush saw -- and loved -- when he famously looked into Putin's soul and gushingly embraced him as a "good man" in one of their early meetings. Nowadays, Putin's recalcitrance about Iraq and his prosecution of a rich oil man has put a crimp in the Crawford coziness -- hence the change in tone by those supreme air-sniffers in the corporate media. But there is absolutely no difference in Putin's philosophy, approach and policies from the time he first took office to today.)
Also left out of Western coverage of Solzhenitsyn's talk was his equally stinging critique of American foreign policy -- a bipartisan blast aimed at both Bush and Clinton, as ITAR-TASS reports. For good or ill (or rather, for good and ill), Solzhenitsyn is a man of moral absolutes: not for him the dainty parsing that somehow differentiates the undeclared, unsanctioned-by-the-UN air war against Serbia from the undeclared, unsanctioned-by-the-UN invasion of Iraq. In neither case was the voice of the people heard through their elected representatives taking a formal vote on the declaration of war. “A stupid project of compelling democracy throughout the world originated in the United States more than a decade ago, and they started bombing Yugoslavia and Iraq," Solzhenitsyn said. "Who is next? The United States must realize that one cannot compel or enforce democracy.”
Solzhenitsyn fought in the front lines of the most vicious war in history. He survived a long sojourn in one of the most brutal prison systems in history. He faced down the leaders of one of the most powerful and repressive governments in history. You don't have to agree with all, or any, of his particular viewpoints on life and politics (and I disagree with quite a few) to recognize his moral authority to speak of war, repression and democracy. It's a shame to see this powerful voice traduced and submerged in the witless blather that passes for political discourse in America today.
(*Many apologies for the misspelled name in the title, which was glaring out at the world for a week before I noticed. *)