MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin led tributes on Monday to the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel literature laureate and prominent dissident of the Soviet era, saying his death was a loss for all of Russia.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, described him as a “man of unique destiny”.
Tributes also came from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders expressing condolences over the death of a man who exposed the horror of Josef Stalin’s prison camps and the tyranny of Soviet rule.
Solzhenitsyn died in his house in Moscow of heart failure on Sunday aged 89. He will lie in state at Moscow’s science academy on Tuesday and a funeral service will take place on Wednesday at the medieval Donskoi monastery, where he will be buried.
State television ran solemn reports on his life but there were no visible signs of grief on Moscow streets. Younger people confessed they knew little about his work.
Long banned at home, Solzhenitsyn gained initial fame when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev allowed the publication in 1962 of his “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, which described the horrifying routine of labor camp life.
He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 for his work, including “Gulag Archipelago”, a chronicle of his own and thousands of other prison camp experiences.
His books unveiled the dark secrets of the Gulag network of camps where millions of Russians died during Stalin’s purges. Some read and distributed his books underground, defying state persecution.
“The death of Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn is a heavy loss for the whole of Russia,” said a statement from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin — a former agent with the KGB security service that led the persecution campaign against Solzhenitsyn.
Gorbachev, who brought in reforms that spurred the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, said his name would live in Russia’s history.”
“He was one of the first people who spoke up about the inhumanity of Stalin’s regime with a full voice, and about the people who lived through this but were not broken,” Gorbachev told Interfax news agency.
Hungarian writer Janos Rozsas, who was imprisoned with Solzhenitsyn, described him as a very modest, quiet man.
In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was stripped of his citizenship and thrown out the country. After that he lived in the United States until the fall of the Soviet Union.
He spent his final years in the Moscow suburb of Troitse-Lykovo, where some passers-by paid tribute on Monday by tucking flowers into the blue-painted gate of his house.
“He was not just a writer, he was more,” said Valery Tarasov, a villager who lives near the house. “He was the conscience of Russia.”
In one Moscow bookstore, a selection of his books was put on display beneath a large black-and-white portrait of the author.
Solzhenitsyn refused to return to Russia until after the Soviet Union collapsed, marking his comeback in a long train journey from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to Moscow in 1994.
After his return, the post-Soviet leadership paid him great respect. But he became increasingly critical of the state of modern day Russia, denouncing corruption.
He lived in seclusion outside Moscow, rarely appearing in public.
“It’s a great loss for our family. It’s also a loss for the country,” his son Stepan told Reuters. “He was always really happy he returned. This is his home.”
Additional reporting by Conor Sweeney, Anatoly Titkin, Valery Stepchenkov; Editing by Angus MacSwan