The Russian Blogosphere Debates Solzhenitsyn

Evgeny Morozov in openDemocracy (or openDemokratia):

One of the first cartoons to travel across the Russian blogosphere on the day of Solzhenitsyn’s death depicts the famed writer swirling in a dirty Soviet toilet. Next to him hangs a roll of toilet paper made of US dollars. [I’m not putting in the cartoon–RV.] “The first circle” reads the caption, alluding to his eponymous novel.

Anti-Solzhenitsyn comments accompany posts featuring the cartoon, click here for Russian: “Thanks all! We’ve done it: almost all the time our opinion’s been getting more clicks than the chorus of tearful praise-mongering for Solzhenitsyn organised by the remaining liberals and hard-core Putinists..When a vicious dog dies, the whole street rejoices – isn’t that what you’d expect?)”

The cartoon and the Solzhenitsyn-bashing that followed it easily became one of the most discussed posts on the Russian Internet that day; pro-Solzhenitsyn bloggers launched their own campaign to clear his name of accusations. Thousands of comments followed, in what may seem like a great exercise in online deliberation.

Under closer scrutiny, however, most of those comments reveal a nation that is still at pains to define itself. As Russians ponder the complex fate of their controversial writer-and their long history of authoritarianism, they still prefer to oversimplify their past rather than acknowledge it in full.

Did Solzhenitsyn collaborate with the authorities? Did he spy on his camp-mates? Was he on CIA’s payroll? Did he sympathize with the Nazis? Is he to blame for the fall of the Soviet system? Did he have any moral right to tell the country what to do, given his own possibly tainted experience in the camps?

Those are all complex questions in need of well-researched and well-considered answers; the thousands of comments on Russian blogs produced very few satisfactory candidates. But not because the commentators haven’t tried – they did – but simply because online polemics rarely produce new factual evidence.