August 27th, 2012Solzhenitsyn and Pussy Riotby Joseph Pearce

I've just been interviewed by a journalist who wanted my opinion on what Solzhenitsyn would have made of the recent trial of the members of the Russian feminist punk band, Pussy Riot, for their sacrilegious and anti-Christian "performance" in the Orthodox Cathedral in Moscow. Here are her questions, with my replies:


1) Is it fair to assume that an old-fashioned conservative like Solzhenitsyn would have been scandalized by a band like Pussy Riot? Wouldn't he have been offended by their choice of a consecrated church for their performance and their calling the Patriarch "vermin"?


In his interview with me Solzhenitsyn stressed that he was not opposed to western influence in post-communist Russia. On the contrary, he assured me that he saw Russia as part of western civilization. If the Iron Curtain had come down, allowing the cream of western civilization to be infused into Russian culture, he would have rejoiced; instead, the Iron Curtain was raised and the dregs and drugs of western decadence seeped in. He would have seen the whole squalid Pussy Riot episode as another example of this western seepage.


2) Given that he found the music of the West in 1978 "intolerable" what would he have made of the punk-rap and scatological lyrics -- "crap, crap, crap" -- used by the band?


He would not have taken them seriously in terms of their art or their politics. They are as nihilistically banal as was the inarticulate hatred of Sid Vicious. They are unpleasant but hardly worth serious consideration. Perhaps the lyrics that you quote speak for themselves!


3) Pussy Riot calls itself a feminist band and in the punk prayer calls on the Virgin Mary to be a feminist and drive out Putin. What were Solzhenitsyn's views on feminism? 


As an Orthodox Christian, Solzhenitsyn would have revered the Blessed Virgin as the model of all that is best and worthy in the truly feminine. She is first of all a Mother, a giver of life and love. Such faithful femininity has nothing in common with lifeless and loveless feminism.


4) Emotions have run high in the Pussy Riot trial. One Russian lawyer went so far as to say that the courts in Stalin's time were fairer than those that exist today. Given what Solzhenitsyn went through, what do you make of such statements?


Such statements are as tasteless as the suggestion that the courts in modern Germany are worse than those in Hitler's time. By the most conservative estimates, Stalin was responsible for killing six times as many people as Hitler. Solzhenitsyn was sent to horrific labour camps merely for criticizing Stalin in a private letter to a friend. Nobody is imprisoned n modern Russia for criticizing Putin in private correspondence, nor is there any prospect of the members of Pussy Riot being sent to a labour camp in the arctic cold of Siberia. Compared with what Solzhenitsyn and tens of milions of others had to endure under communism, the present Russian government could be said to be positively pussyfooting in its treatment of Pussy Riot!


5) Solzhenitsyn had a soft spot for Putin. By not criticizing him strongly enough and remaining silent on the Chechen issue, do you think he diminished his own legacy?


In my biography I confront the allegations that Solzhenitsyn failed to criticize Putin sufficiently. Solzhenitsyn's wife stated explicitly in a speech in 2007 that he "by no means agree[d]" with the party-dominated nature of the Russian legislature, the absence of meaningful local self-government, and the rampant corruption that continued to plague Russian business and politics. Solzhenitsyn was simply pursuing in his discussions with Putin the same demands for political freedom that he had sought to pursue with the members of the Politburo more than thirty years earlier. The only difference was that Putin was prepared to listen to him whereas the communists had sought to silence him. Solzhenitsyn's legacy as one who suffered greatly for the cause of human liberty is undiminished. 

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  • August 28 2012 | by Harry Colin

    Thank you Joseph for this spirited and informed reflection on the great Solzhenitsyn.

    It is depressing to see so many Western commentators trying to paint these non-entities bent on desecrating sacred space as some kind of freedom-loving artists unfairly oppressed by the Russian government. I applaud the Russians for not tolerating this anti-Christian rot in the cathedral. Would that our society would have the courage and moral fiber to do the same.