Solzhenitsyn's widow takes Putin to task

Vladimir Putin received a rare public rebuff from the widow of Alexander Solzhenitsyn for using the term "propaganda" in discussing the author's account of Soviet Gulag life, The Gulag Archipelago.

The Prime Minister, a scion of the Soviet intelligence world that suppressed Solzhenitsyn's works for most of his life, had meant only praise in proposing his account of the horrors of camp life for Russia's school curriculum.

Language, however, can be a sensitive matter. In Soviet Russia, Communist rulers saw "propaganda" as a healthy weapon to be used against enemies of the state. To enemies of the state such as Solzhenitsyn it was an evil to be combated.

"In just a few days we will mark a year since Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn passed away," Mr Putin began, in welcoming Natalya Solzhenitsyna to his office. "Remembering this, I would like to return today to the issue we have discussed with Alexander Isayevich – the propaganda of his work, studying..."

Solzhenitsyn's widow would apparently have none of it. "I would rather say studying, than propaganda," she interrupted, according to a government transcript. "Learning is better than propaganda."

Mr Putin promptly corrected himself. "...learning of his literary heritage," he said.

Solzhenitsyn, himself a strong patriot who respected Mr Putin for his efforts to restore Russia as a power, died last year at the age of 89. His widow said that one or two lessons on the monumental The Gulag Archipelago should be enough "to rekindle" its importance in students' hearts.

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