Russia May Face a Ukraine-Style Revolution
Thursday, June 09, 2005

MOSCOW, Russia -- Nobel Prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn has emerged from his jealously guarded obscurity to decry the state of Russian politics and to warn that the country may be on the brink of a Ukraine-style revolution.

Now 86 and in frail health, the former dissident rarely makes public appearances, let alone public statements, so this latest outburst has generated considerable interest.

The fiercely private author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, his semi-autobiographical account of his 10-year stint in the Soviet gulag system, did not pull any punches.

Solzhenitsyn was deported from the USSR in 1974 after the KGB discovered a manuscript for The Gulag Archipelago.

He first settled in Switzerland before moving to America. He returned to Russia in 1994, his Russian citizenship having been restored by then Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev four years earlier.

Known for his ultra-conservative views and vehement Russian nationalism, he has urged the Government to change course or else face a revolution of the kind that convulsed Ukraine last year.

He told Russian state television that a Ukrainian-style "Orange Revolution" may take place if tension between the public and the authorities flared and money began to flow to the opposition.

He also said Russian democracy was not under threat because insufficient time had passed for it to really take root.

"It is often said that democracy is being taken away from us and that there is a threat to our democracy. What democracy is threatened? Power of the people? We don't have it," he told Rossiya, the state-run channel.

"We have nothing that resembles democracy. We are trying to build democracy without self-governance. Before anything, we must begin to build a system so that the people can manage their own destinies."

In an apparent sideswipe at the West's attempts to impose democracy from above in places such as Iraq, he warned that such attempts were doomed to failure.

"Democracy is not worth a brass farthing if it is being installed by bayonets," he said. "Democracy should grow slowly and gradually."

He also made it clear he had little time for Russia's oligarchs who grew fabulously wealthy in the 1990s, not least former head of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was jailed recently for nine years on fraud and tax evasion charges.

"The world has never seen such rapid privatisation," he said. "The world has never seen such idiots. They gave away our God-given resources at lightning speed - oil, non-ferrous metals, coal, production. They fully robbed Russia.

"From scratch, from nothing, we bred billionaires who have done nothing for Russia."

His comments have been tacitly welcomed by the Kremlin, which gave him ample air time and newspaper space to make his points, whose uniquely Russian interpretation will find favour with President Vladimir Putin.