BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Europe
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Putin meets Solzhenitsyn
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd-R) and his wife Lyudmila (L) and Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn (2nd L) and his wife Natalya (R) at Solzhenitsyn's suburban home,
All smiles: The Solzhenitsyns and the Putins
By Russian Affairs Analyst Steven Eke

Russian President Vladimir Putin has visited the writer and former dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Mr Solzhenitsyn is one of Russia's most distinguished living writers and is often referred to as the "conscience of Russia".

Following persecution by the Soviet authorities - including 10 years spent in Soviet prison camps - he was exiled from the Soviet Union.

Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Mr Solzhenitsyn spent 10 years in prison camps
Since returning to Russia in 1994, he has found little peace of mind and in recent weeks he has become increasingly critical of Mr Putin.

A Kremlin spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that Mr Putin personally telephoned Mr Solzhenitsyn to arrange the meeting.

Russian television showed Mr Putin and his wife Lyudmilla being welcomed at the Solzhenitsyns' wooden house outside Moscow. The state media said the men spent three hours together, discussing Russia's destiny.

The meeting was highly ironic, with a former head of Russia's secret police discussing matters of state with a man who had suffered almost lifelong persecution at the hands of the secret police.

Media image

Mr Putin does not usually have his social life reported in detail on television. And observers are beginning to speculate that the meeting was about more than pleasantries, because Mr Solzhenitsyn has recently spoken out against many of Mr Putin's policies.

Mr Putin is showing that his grip on the media - and his own public image - is more fragile than he would like to think

The Russian president's media image seemed unassailable, but it took a battering over the Kursk submarine disaster and the inept reaction of the authorities. And Mr Putin has been keen to show that his tolerance of criticism is limited.

Recent criminal and financial moves against the independent media suggests the Kremlin intends to deal firmly with critical voices.

Differences of opinion

But Mr Solzhenitsyn appeared to be a firm supporter of Mr Putin.

The two men share a vision of Russia as a restored state - a state that would play a central role as a respected nation in the world community.

But their vision of how to achieve this is quite different. Mr Putin believes in a strong state, but one committed to continuing reform, a market economy and human rights. It is a vision that would be at home in the West.

But Mr Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia after becoming disillusioned with what he considered the spiritual vacuum of the materialistic West.

He has criticised Mr Putin for not removing the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by Russia's parliamentarians.

They overwhelmingly back Mr Putin, but Mr Solzhenitsyn has declared that most of them are thieves.

The two men's views of the Russian people also differ. Mr Solzhenitsyn's statements appeal strongly to nationalistic sentiments.

He has called on Russians to stop "capitulating" to their enemies.

But that puts him at odds with President Putin, whose words on Russia's relationship with its neighbours and the outside world are measured and conciliatory.

President Putin and Alexander Solzhenitsyn represent different generations of Russians.

Mr Solzhenitsyn remains attached to a romantic notion of Russia's greatness and spiritual revival. But President Putin is aware of Russia's more acute needs. And he is showing that limiting the impact of potential adversaries - even intellectuals like Mr Solzhenitsyn - is a high priority.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

10 Sep 00 | Media reports
Row erupts as Russian TV show axed
26 Aug 00 | Europe
Russian media loses its sting
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories