In his last interview, conducted last summer, Solzhenitsyn had some important words for all of us. Responding to a question about the danger that there will be no accounting for the crimes of the Soviet government, he said:
As for “brooding over the past”, alas, that conflation of “Soviet” and “Russian”, against which I spoke so often in the 1970s, has not passed away in the West, or in the ex-socialist countries, or in the former Soviet republics [bold mine-DL]. The elder political generation in communist countries was not ready for repentance, while the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over, that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history.
Solzhenitsyn also warned against an anti-Russian essentialism:
One should not ascribe the evil deeds of individual leaders or political regimes to an innate fault of the Russian people and their country. One should not attribute this to the “sick psychology” of the Russians, as is often done in the West.
Addressing the decline in relations between Russia and the West, he observed:
The most interesting [reasons] are psychological, ie, the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. This was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.
This mood started changing with the cruel Nato bombings of Serbia. All layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when Nato started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.
So, the perception of the West as mostly a “knight of democracy” has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals. At the same time, the West was enjoying its victory after the Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a third world country and would remain so. When Russia started to regain some of its strength, the West’s reaction â€“ perhaps subconscious, based on erstwhile fears â€“ was panic.
He also expressed concern about the missed opportunity of forging a more stable alliance with Russia earlier in the decade:
But did not Russia clearly and unambiguously stretch its helping hand to the West after 9/11? Only a psychological shortcoming, or else a disastrous shortsightedness, can explain the West’s irrational refusal of this hand. No sooner did the US accept Russia’s critically important aid in Afghanistan than it started making newer and newer demands. As for Europe, its claims towards Russia are fairly transparently based on fears about energy, unjustified fears.