Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is probably the most well-known Soviet-era dissident: sentenced to a gulag for criticizing Stalin, won the Nobel Prize for literature, exiled from the Soviet Union for 20 years, criticized Western culture while living in Vermont, returned to Russia, criticized the new Russian government . . . until he formed a friendship with Vladimir Putin.
Photograph by Bert Verhoff, courtesy Nationaal Archif (Netherlands)

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  • On May 27, 1994, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia after 20 years of exile. Solzhenitsyn (pronounced sol-zhen-EET-zihn) was a dissident, meaning he questioned and often disagreed with the authority of the Soviet Union, which was then the government of Russia.
     
    Solzhenitsyn had been a dissident almost his entire life. In 1945, he was sentenced to eight years in a gulag, or Soviet work camp, for criticizing Soviet leader Josef Stalin. His first and best-known novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, was based on Solzhenitsyn’s time in the gulag. 
     
    Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. His mammoth, three-volume history of the prison system, The Gulag Archipelago, was banned in the Soviet Union, and Solzhenitsyn was exiled when the book was published abroad in 1974. The author spent most of his exile in the U.S. state of Vermont.
     
    After the fall of the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia, where he embarked on a nationwide tour. True to form, he criticized the new Russian government, accusing it of political and economic oppression. Despite his dissent, he and Russian leader Vladimir Putin formed a friendship before Solzhenitsyn’s death in 2008.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abroad Adverb

    in a foreign country.

    authority Noun

    person or organization responsible for making decisions.

    ban Verb

    to prohibit, or not allow.

    criticize Verb

    to find fault with something.

    dissident Noun

    someone who disagrees with public opinion or authority.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    embark Verb

    to leave or set off on a journey.

    exile Noun

    forced ejection from a country, or a person who feels forced to leave.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    gulag Noun

    forced-labor camp of the Soviet Union.

    mammoth Adjective

    very large.

    oppress Verb

    to unjustly discriminate against, torment, or persecute.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    publish Verb

    to provide a written piece of work, such as a book or newspaper, for sale or distribution.

    Soviet Union Noun

    (1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.