by Andrea Elizabeth
In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn also wants to identify the innocent. Their crimes were exaggerated and mischaracterized. Some if the conclusions reached did have a certain logic, though. Such as the one about intent being equal to planning being equal to execution. Anyone can be found guilty of intent. And weren’t the accused indeed anti soviets? Good reasons aside. The lack of freedom to hold such views is the “inhuman” part. Solzhenitsyn regrets his recklessness, but isn’t silence playing into their hands?
Back to innocence. Coercively controlling behavior and keeping some strict order in which everyone must continuously praise the leadership is made out to be worse than rebellion against authority. Nowadays it’s fashionable to criticize. Surely though there are respectable leaders who inspire heartfelt praise. This is the ideal situation. Not one where people have to stifle their criticism, nor one where criticism is all one can come up with. But if things are bad, and they obviously were, criticism is a way to find an answer. I think the answer is in Orthodoxy. I have wondered at the exalted silence in Orthodoxy. Spontaneous originality isn’t the most sought after thing. My conclusion is that Orthodox prayers are what one would say if everything were right. Even the ones about problems indicate that the praying person is seeking the right remedy. Most other conversation is trying to get ones self or others to that place. If one has accepted that that is where they need to go.
Innocence isn’t exactly emphasized in Orthodoxy either. But neither is punishment. Love and compassion are what is sought after. The arrested (good word. those whose life as they knew it stopped), thought they were innocent, but mostly thought that they should be treated fairly and with compassion. That they should be allowed to work and have families, and have their bodily and psychological needs provided for. Solzhenitsyn talks about the narrow, delicate set of needs, sleep for example, that a human requires in order to keep his personality intact. The rights of prisoners is one subject. The rights of a population another, but maybe not so different. Who is really innocent? But the difference is that the Father is compassionate. Orthodox aren’t as wimpy about the wrath of God as the Universalists, but maybe the emphasis is more on what grieves the Holy Spirit than what makes him mad and makes him want to destroy everything. We expect our parents and even our country’s leaders to have compassion on us. To nurture us and provide a space for us to grow. Innocent or not, this is what we consider a human right. Even prisoners should be given space to improve. Forgiveness is a matter I’m not qualified to speculate about, but I think there is a way to improve relations between God and man. But it seems those on top have to provide it. Be they parents or nation’s leaders. Those who don’t provide a safe place to improve, fail. Not because the “subjects” were innocent, but because they are made in God’s image and have a point of view. Interesting that Solzhenitsyn talks about having a point of view as a right. Orthodox may not stress individuality as including a right to be one’s own Pope, but there is a respect for a person’s freedom. Their point of view is not violently squelched. It is considered the fumbling attempts of a child to walk in God’s footprints. Most children want to. When paths diverge, well, I guess that’s where criticism comes in, and it seems to me that compassion is more in order from the top down, than the other way around. This is why Solzhenitsyn had such a hard time recalling his interrogators. He had boundless compassion for his fellow prisoners. He doesn’t even down-talk the actual criminals who were arrested. But the state representatives were barely human to him. The state treated them as “rats”, so how can a rat have compassion for the real people? To expect Solzhenitsyn to have compassion for the Soviets is beyond my expectation. He seemed to make some peace with the situation in that it allowed him to co-suffer with others who would have remained nameless and invisibly disposed without his exposé. We can see that such treatment may have had some positive spiritual results for the country as Metropolitan Kyril pointed out (see previous post), but to expect a compassionate condescension to Lenin, Stalin, and their operatives seems to be to rewound their victims. The Soviets so provided for themselves that they have their reward in full. To be so good at extracting blood from turnips is what they’ll have to satisfy themselves with.
A measure for rehabilitation of someone who has taken another’s life is how much they can identify with their victim’s suffering. Solzhenitsyn put a lot of energy into writing about the suffering of the Soviet’s victims. Not for the perpetrators to learn to identify with those they treated in the coldest, cruelest manner, but for those “innocent”, good people to realize what was going on while they were “on their nice vacations”. He just wants free people to willingly walk in his and his fellow inmates’ shoes. Not the people in authority who sold themselves to the devil. They have made themselves invisible.