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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No 'Crisis' in Rare Solzhenitsyn Speech




Russia's most celebrated living writer, the reclusive Alexander Solzhenitsyn, made a rare public speech Monday, but he focused on 19th-century writer Anton Chekhov rather than the country's economic crisis.


"Yes, I come out only rarely," he said when asked about Russia's latest troubles. "But this is not the time or place for that."


Solzhenitsyn, winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize for literature, returned to Russia in 1994 after 20 years in exile in the United States. He was expelled from the Soviet Union for his dissident writing.


He is largely ignored in the new Russia despite his commanding literary reputation.


His latest book, "Russia in Collapse," an indictment of post-Soviet capitalist life and its political leadership published earlier this year, had a print run of only 5,000 copies. A television talk show he hosted was canceled in 1995 for lack of viewers.


On Monday, Solzhenitsyn, wearing a army green coat and cap, spoke before several hundred people in central Moscow at a ceremony unveiling a monument to Chekhov in front of a 100-year-old theater bearing the earlier writer's name.


With his traditional Russian long beard, Solzhenitsyn looked at home on the street lined with restored 19th-century buildings.


Only once did he seem to draw a direct parallel between Chekhov's literary world and the Russia of today.


"In 'Svirel' [Reed Pipe], an old man mournfully foresees the destruction of nature and predicts the end of the world," Solzhenitsyn said on a brisk and sunny autumn morning.


"This prophetical tale was 70 years before the first ecological alarms and 110 years before our current situation."


Instead of hanging on his every word, the crowd did not seem unusually enthusiastic about Solzhenitsyn, whose banned works Russians once read avidly and passed among trusted friends.


Some people even talked among themselves during the writer's short speech.


After the tribute to Chekhov came to an end and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov had led a tour past posh boutiques on the restored pedestrian street, Solzhenitsyn and his wife, Natalya, quietly slipped away, declining to speak with well-wishers.


The author of "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" and "Gulag Archipelago" turns 80 next month, but he has given no indication of any late-in-life interest in politics or higher-profile involvement in Russian p ublic life. "When you are 80, it's too late to start something new," he said in April.