Russians sanguine about Solzhenitsyn's return

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The Independent Online
THE VILLAGE of Troitse-Lykovo outside Moscow has seen more foreign correspondents this week than in all of its history.

This is the place to which Alexander Solzhenitsyn will retire when he returns to Russia after 20 years of exile in the United States. And his arrival is believed to be imminent.

'You journalists are getting much more excited about this than we are,' said a woman who was planting potatoes in an allotment under the high green fence concealing the writer's new home from prying eyes. 'Of course we respect Alexander Isayevich but our lives are not going to change, are they?'

One wonders whether Solzhenitsyn's life is going to change much either, despite the fact that the author of the Gulag Archipelago is returning to a democratic and capitalist Russia that he may barely recognise.

In Vermont, where he settled after being expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, the writer jealously guarded his privacy and admitted few outsiders to his estate. Here, too, he will be able to keep out the world in a house and grounds overlooking the Moscow river and bordered by other dachas occupied by top members of the Russian government.

The difference between Solzhenitsyn and his neighbours is that he has paid for his home while they are enjoying the privileges of high office. 'He has not taken a kopeck from the state,' said the friendly watchman, who took 10 minutes after hearing the doorbell to walk from the house to the fence. He introduced his alsatian dog as Blondie and himself as Vladimir.

Behind the fence a huge reconstruction job has been going on. Rumour had it that Solzhenitsyn was going to live in the dacha once occupied by Stalin's cruel and most loyal henchman, Lazar Kaganovich, but that seemed improbable. In fact, Kaganovich's old dacha is just down the road.

Solzhenitsyn will live on the estate that was once home to Marshal Tukhachevsky, before Stalin purged him in 1938, and then to the ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, before he defected to the West. But the old house has been pulled down and replaced with a new one large enough to accommodate the writer's vast archives.

Vladimir would not let me have as much as a glimpse inside or even say how many rooms the new house has. 'If I tell you that, the next question will be 'What colour is the bathroom suite?' You must understand my position. You're doing your job and I'm doing mine.'

Vladimir did, however, let slip one secret: that there is a problem with the roof and, if Solzhenitsyn arrives in Russia as expected before 25 May, he will not be able to move into the house immediately but will have to stay for a while in a flat in Moscow.

The loyal watchman believes the writer, who has given cautious support to President Boris Yeltsin, will strongly influence events in Russia when he returns. 'When I first read Solzhenitsyn, I was on my knees,' he said. 'He helped me to stand on my feet as a citizen.'

But most Russians, while admiring Solzhenitsyn as a writer, seem to think that he is largely irrelevant to their concerns of today.

(Photograph omitted)