Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Solzhenitsyn's Addresses Cavendish Town Meeting 3/1/1977

Thirty six years ago, on February 28, 1977, Alexksandr Solzhenitsyn addressed his neighbors at the Cavendish Town Meeting.



Monday, February 28, 1977
                                                                                                                       
Citizens of Cavendish!  Dear neighbors!

I have come here today to say hello to you and to greet you.

I will be turning sixty soon; yet in all my life I have never had any definite permanent place to live, much less my own home.  Not knowing the conditions of Soviet life, you can barely imagine that people in the Soviet Union are not allowed to live where they choose.  I did not have the opportunity to live in those places where my work dictated that I should be; at times, I was not even permitted to live with my own family.  Finally, the Soviet authorities would no longer tolerate me at all, and deported me from the USSR.

God determined that every man should live among his own people, in the land of his birth.  As a mature tree takes poorly to replanting, sickens, and sometimes dies in its new place, so too a man cannot always bear exile, and literally falls ill.  I would like to hope that none of you will ever have to experience this bitter fate of forced exile.  Nothing seems the same in a foreign land; nothing seems yours.  You feel a constant anguish in those conditions under which everyone else lives normally — and you are seen as a stranger.

It so happened that among you, in Cavendish, Vermont, I was able to find my first home and my first permanent residence.  I am no fan of big cities with their bustling way of life; but I like very much your simple way of life, similar to that of our Russian peasants, except that they, of course, live much poorer than you.  I like the landscape that surrounds you, and I like very much your climate, with its long snowy winters which remind me of Russia.

I like it here, but I hope that my presence will not turn out to be unpleasant for you.  I have read in the papers that some of you feel unhappy, or even insulted, that I have put up a fence around my property.  I would like to explain this now.  My life consists of work, and this work demands that it not be interrupted.  An interruption of one's work is enough to ruin it.  I have come here from Switzerland, where I first lived after being expelled from the Soviet Union.  There, I lived in an easily accessible place.  And thus, hundreds of strangers from around the world kept coming to see me, never asking for my agreement or for an invitation, but deciding that their wish to see me and talk to me was reason enough to come.  Furthermore, I have often been visited by reporters — also uninvited — who believe that my life is part of the public domain, and that they have the right and obligation to relate every petty detail of my life in the press, or to keep pressing me for new photographs.  Over and above all that, I am sometimes visited by Soviet agents — in other words, ill-meaning individuals sent by the hostile Soviet authorities.  They have already managed to come here; they have sent letters through the mail and even left notes at the gate, threatening to kill me or my family.  I understand, of course, that my fence is not a protection from Soviet agents (such a fence would do little against them); but as for the reporters and the idle types — from them, this fence protects well, and gives me the quiet necessary for my work.  Some of these people have already disturbed my neighbors, and you can judge for yourselves what it is like to meet with anyone who chances to come.  I would like to bring my apologies to those of my neighbors who have been annoyed and disturbed by these unbidden guests.  I would like to apologize even more to the snowmobilers and hunters across whose usual paths the fence now stands.  I think that you will understand, now, that this is an essential condition for my work, and hence for my life.  I could not have done otherwise.

Taking the opportunity of our meeting today, I would like to add a couple of words — to ask you not to misconstrue, not to succumb to the misinterpretation of the word "Russian," as it is used in the press.  Two words are being confused here: "Russian" and "Soviet."  You are told that Russian tanks entered Prague, and that Russian missiles are aimed threateningly at the United States.  I would ask you to keep in mind that, in fact, Soviet tanks entered Prague, and Soviet missiles threaten the United States.  "Russian" is to "Soviet" as "man" is to "disease."  We do not call someone afflicted with cancer—"Cancer," or someone with the plague—"Plague," for we understand that their disease, their severe trial, is not their fault.  The Communist system is a disease, a plague that has been spreading across the earth for many years already, and it is impossible to predict what peoples will yet be forced to experience this disease firsthand.  My people, the Russians, have been suffering from it for sixty years already; they long to be healed.  And the day will come when they are indeed healed of this Soviet disease.  On that day I will thank you for being good friends and neighbors, and will go back to my homeland.

[trans. by Stephan Solzhenitsyn]

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