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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Solzhenitsyn Plans Political Debut in Duma

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the writer, nobel laureate and self-appointed conscience of Russia, is to take his message to the State Duma on Thursday in his first major appearance since returning to Moscow from 20 years of exile five months ago.

"He is hard at work preparing for his speech," said Munira Urazova, who runs Solzhenitsyn's public relations office in Moscow. "I am sure he will share his impressions of the new Russia with us then."

Since his triumphant return to Moscow on July 21, Solzhenitsyn has given numerous interviews in the press and on television, so his views are hardly a secret. He has appeared in such popular forums as the news programs Itogi and Vzglyad, and has delivered a series of short homilies on everything from education to the evils of Western Kremlinology on Ostankino's Channel 1.

But, aside form his harsh criticism of figures such as Yegor Gaidar and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Solzhenitsyn, 75, has until now avoided Russia's turbulent political fray. His planned address to parliament Thursday would mark the first time he has taken the national stage.

The Duma issued its invitation in early July, at the instigation of filmmaker and staunch nationalist Stanislav Govorukhin and with the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party. Solzhenitsyn, though a virulent anti-Communist, has appealed to a wide range of Russians who are feeling disgruntled with the present state of their country.

"He receives hundreds of letters from all over Russia," said Urazova, who points to the correspondence as vivid testimony of the impact Solzhenitsyn has made since his return.

Though he has made few headlines in Moscow, the writer has over the summer visited the southern regions of Stavropol and Kuban, where he was born and raised and where his parents are buried.

He may also be writing fiction again. Yelena Chukovskaya, who has been instrumental in preparing a new edition of Solzehnitsyn's collected works, said in a telephone interview that he was composing short stories for a 24-volume edition to be published next year by Voenizdat, formerly the state publishing house for military literature.

"It will be the most complete collection to date," she said. "Four volumes will be released next year, with four more every year until the end of the century."

Solzhenitsyn arrived in the far-eastern city Vladivostok on May 27, and from there set off on an eight-week odyssey back to Moscow. Traveling in a specially-equipped railroad car, he stopped along the way and met with ordinary Russians in a series of town meetings.

Everywhere Solzhenitsyn's message was the same: Russia is in moral and spiritual crisis; "brainless" reforms are driving the nation into poverty; and the Slavic republics must unite to pro tect their historical homeland. It is not clear whether the writer will choose to say something different to the nation's parliament.

Solzhenitsyn has said that he is, first and foremost, a writer, and it is in this capacity that he has returned to Russia. He has often complained that he has not been read in his homeland -- earlier because he was forbidden, and now, because of the collapse of the publishing industry.

Nikolai Sinitsyn, editor in charge of the collected works project at Voenizdat, agreed.

"People want to read Solzhenitsyn, they want to know the truth about what happened in our country," he said. "And we want to fulfill our obligations."But, added Sinitsyn, the statewide system of publishing and distribution has broken down since the market came to Russia, making it difficult to predict what the print run will be for such a mammoth project as the Solzhenitsyn collection.

"Before, we were told what we could publish and what we could not," he said. "It was not a very comfortable situation for an editor, but at least we did not have to worry about distribution. Now we are self-financing. If our distributors do not pay us, what are we supposed to do?"

Sinitsyn said his department at Voenizdat specializes in military, historical, and patriotic literature. "Solzhenitsyn fits right in," he laughed.