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6 Aug, 2008 00:47

Hundreds bid farewell to dissident writer

Hundreds of people have paid their last respects at a vigil for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The 89-year-old Nobel Prize winner and Soviet dissident died late on Sunday at his home outside Moscow after heart failure. His fune

The body of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lay in open casket while the public paid their final tributes to the literary legend.

The writer's wife, Natalia, struggled to contain her tears as she stood watch over her late husband's coffin. But she says her husband's life ended in the way he had wanted.

High-profile political figures were there too. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered his condolences to Solzhenitsyn's family. Putin has called for Solzhenitsyn's literature to become a more important part of the educational curriculum, because of the lessons which it has taught Russia.

“He was a person that, along with the rest of our people, lived through the great tragedy of the repressions. But he didn't just live through it, with his work and with his life, he was able to give society a very significant vaccination against tyranny in any of its manifestations,” Putin said. 

Solzhenitsyn brought the horror of the Soviet labour camps to the world's attention, and played a key role in undermining Stalin's brutal regime. The Soviet dissident spent eight years in labour camps, which inspired him to turn to writing.

His works shocked the Soviet elite, helping to destroy any support for the Soviet experiment in the West and, in turn, inspired a generation of dissidents.

Solzhenitsyn spent twenty years in exile in the United States and returned home only in 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He led a life of seclusion with his family in the small New England town of Cavendish in the U.S. state of Vermont.

The former dissident’s home still stands upon a hill hidden in the woods. His neighbours respected the writer's privacy. That tradition remains today: the place still has an aura of solitude and mystery, and locals are in the dark about what goes on behind the gate of the writer’s former house. The little town remains respectful of the writer and intends to keep his memory alive.

During his years in exile, it's said Solzhenitsyn kept his wrist watch set to Moscow time. He yearned to return to Russia.

He'll be buried in a cemetery in Moscow's Donskoy monastery on Wednesday.