The Letter to Soviet Leaders that Solzhenitsyn has recently published is a disappointing document. But it is not difficult to argue with Solzhenitsyn on this occasion, so absurd are many of his propositions. Nevertheless, however great one’s first sense of disagreement and disappointment with Solzhenitsyn’s utopian and incompetent propositions, it is impossible not to perceive that his letter reflects, even if in an extremely distorted way, many problems of our society and state which are real and acute. Not everything is so simple in what we find in this new document from Solzhenitsyn’s pen, and it cannot be brushed off as merely the naively self-confident discourse of a ‘reactionary romantic and nationalist’. The attitude which is expressed in extremely sharp and even grotesque form in Solzhenitsyn’s letter is characteristic of many people in our country, and this fact, in the first instance, compels us to give consideration to certain really difficult problems of the contemporary situation and immediate future.
Sakharov has already criticized, with justification, Solzhenitsyn’s nationalism and isolationism. The latter writes only of ‘Russia’s hope for winning time and winning salvation’ (Letter, p. 27: my emphasis)footnote1, declaring that, ‘after all we have endured, it is enough for the time being for us to worry about how to save our own people’ (p. 19: Solzhenitsyn’s emphasis). The fate of the other nations of the Soviet Union troubles Solzhenitsyn little, as we can see from one of the notes to his Letter, in which he treats as desirable the separation of the ‘peripheral nations’ from the ussr, with the possible exception only of the Ukraine and Byelorussia (p. 32).
I cannot share either these views or these feelings of his. But they are not chance phenomena, even though few Russians give expression to them in such a sharp way as Solzhenitsyn has done.
We are well aware, of course, that the Russian language has spread rapidly all over the territory of the ussr. The Russian people is still referred to in the press as ‘the elder brother’. However, it is none the less a fact that the Russian people’s own national life is hampered to a very much greater extent than the national lives of, say, the Armenian, Georgian or Uzbek peoples.
Thus, for example, Russian villages in the regions that form the centre of Russia are in an incomparably more neglected state than the villages of the Ukraine, Moldavia, Transcaucasia or the Baltic countries. Further more, the Russian people is in practice without a capital of its own. In becoming the capital of the multi-national Union, Moscow has almost wholly lost the features of a national Russian city, the capital of the strictly Russian lands, as it was before the Revolution. (The more Europeanized Petersburg, a city of officialdom and industry, was the capital of the Empire.) This transformation of Moscow into an international centre, deprived of its own national features, has had far from positive consequences for the Russian people as a whole.
Such a weakening of the national foundations of Russian life in the present period is neither natural nor progressive. To be sure, a partial process of integration of all nations is going on throughout the world nowadays. Some small nations which possess no old and well-developed culture are being gradually assimilated, fusing with larger nations. In most other cases, however, national culture, self-awareness and customs constitute something of tremendous value, which must be developed and cherished, in no way to the detriment of international integration in the economic, scientific and technical fields. Already before the revolution Lenin wrote that ‘the aim of socialism is not only to bring the nations closer together but to integrate them’.footnote2 That was, perhaps, an over-hasty opinion. All the principal nationalities of the ussr are
How might it be possible to facilitate not merely the preservation but also the development of the national distinctiveness of the Russian people? This is a question that calls for special consideration. Let us observe, first of all, that the proposal that was once made to separate the capitals of the ussr and the rsfsr (and a number of people were sentenced under Stalin for making this proposal) was far from being ill-founded; while extensive and urgent measures are necessary to raise the level of both agriculture and cultural life in the Russian heartland areas, especially in the central and northern regions of the European part of the rsfsr.