Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1974
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1974

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was famous when I still lived in Italy, close to the big “monster” that was in those days (the 70s and early 80s) the Eastern Bloc of countries on the east side of Europe. All those countries where separated from Western Europe by the so called Iron Courtain, the 7.000 km long physical barrier of fences, walls, and minefields that separated the “east” from the “west”. Those 7.000 km also included the infamous Berlin Wall. But the Iron Courtain was also the non-physical barrier created by the Soviet Union (USSR) to block itself and its satellite states from any open contact with the West countries after the end of World War II in 1945. It was created to block the influence of ideas about freedom coming from the West, all too dangerous for the Soviet Regime.

In those days of great ideological conflict between the West and the East, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn became famous for his denunciation of the Soviet Regime. Born in 1918, he was a Russian novelist and historian, and he became an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system.

He was able to publish only one novel in the Soviet Union, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962). All his other books had to be published in the West, including The Gulag Archipelago (1973), a literary and historical masterpiece that documents Soviet repression from 1918 to 1956. Solzhenitsyn secretly worked on this epic book for ten years (1958-1968), and then it circulated illegally in the USSR before being officially published. The KGB was so worried by The Gulag Archipelago that it tried to locate copies and identify readers.

Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature,  but he was afraid to go to Stockholm to receive his award for fear that he would not be allowed to reenter. He was eventually expelled anyway from the Soviet Union in 1974, but was able to return in 1994 after the end of the Soviet Union. He died in 2008

Men have forgotten God

Regarding atheism, Solzhenitsyn declared:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Top 30 Quotes From Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

“It’s a universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un uprooted small corner of evil. ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power—he’s free again.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward

“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

“… Do not pursue what is illusionary -property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life -don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn for happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart -and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it may be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted on their memory.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

“You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

“It is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956

“To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Can a man who’s warm understand one who’s freezing?” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

“Human rights’ are a fine thing, but how can we make ourselves sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others. A society with unlimited rights is incapable of standing to adversity. If we do not wish to be ruled by a coercive authority, then each of us must rein himself in…A stable society is achieved not by balancing opposing forces but by conscious self-limitation: by the principle that we are always duty-bound to defer to the sense of moral justice.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia: Reflections and Tentative Proposals

“A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Do not pursue what is illusory – property and position: all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade and can be confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life – don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. ” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

“Our envy of others devours us most of all.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

“A great writer is, so to speak, a second government in his country. And for that reason no regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

“Sometimes I feel quite distinctly that what is inside me is not all of me. There is something else, sublime, quite indestructible, some tiny fragment of the Universal spirit. Don’t you feel that?” ― Alexander Solzhenitsyn

“If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?” ― Alexander SolzhenitsynThe First Circle

“Freedom! To fill people’s mailboxes, eyes, ears and brains with commercial rubbish against their will, television programs that are impossible to watch with a sense of coherence. Freedom! To force information on people, taking no account of their right not to accept it or their right of peace of mind. Freedom! To spit in the eyes and souls of passersby with advertisements.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

“We didn’t love freedom enough. ” ― Aleksandr I. SolzhenitsynThe Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956

“There is no point asserting and reasserting what the heart cannot believe.” 
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today. The Western world has lost its civic courage . . . . Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elite, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

“What is the most precious thing in the world? I see now that it is the knowledge that you have no part in injustice. Injustice is stronger than you, it always was and always will be, but let it not be done through you.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


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