6 Aug 2008

Russia pays respects to Solzhenitsyn

9:55 am on 6 August 2008

Russians have been paying their last respects to writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died on Sunday at the age of 89.

The open coffin of Solzhenitsyn, whose books revealed the horrors of Stalin's regime, is lying in state at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.

People bearing flowers filed past the coffin making the sign of the cross.

His body will be buried in an Orthodox ceremony at the 16th Century Donskoi Monastery in the capital on Wednesday.

The writer's widow Natalya and his two sons, Stepan and Yermolai, stood near to the coffin as mourners walked through the hall to lay long-stemmed flowers at the foot of the casket.

The author of The Gulag Archipelago and One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich died of heart failure on Sunday at his home near Moscow.

Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994, following two decades in exile in the West.

Mourners included Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who embraced Solzhenitsyn's wife as he passed the coffin.

In later televised remarks, Mr Putin called for Solzhenitsyn's works to become an important part of the Russian school curriculum.

The Soviet Union's last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who restored Solzhenitsyn's citizenship in 1990 and whose reforms helped end communism, was also in attendance. He said the writer had played a key role in undermining Stalin's totalitarian regime.

Solzhenitsyn served as a Soviet artillery officer in World War II and was decorated for his courage, but in 1945 was denounced for criticising Stalin in a letter.

He spent the next eight years in the Soviet prison system, or Gulag, before being internally exiled to Kazakhstan.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.