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World leaders salute Solzhenitsyn

World leaders hailed the life and work of dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy paying a glowing tribute to Russia's "conscience."

world Updated: Aug 05, 2008 09:14 IST

World leaders hailed the life and work of dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy paying a glowing tribute to Russia's "conscience."

Sarkozy said Solzhenitsyn, an ambivalent icon of the Cold War who died late Sunday aged 89, was "one of the greatest
consciences of 20th century Russia.

"Born a year after the Russian revolution, for the very long years of Soviet terror he incarnated 'dissidence'," Sarkozy said in a statement.

"It was Alexander Solzhenitsyn who opened the eyes of the world to the reality of the Soviet system, giving a universal reach to his experience," he said.

"His intransigence, his ideals and his long, eventful life make of Solzhenitsyn a storybook figure, heir to Dostoyevsky.
"He belongs to the pantheon of world history. I pay homage to his memory," Sarkozy wrote.

Sarkozy's predecessor Jacques Chirac said Solzhenitsyn "will be remembered as an intellectual who provided us with a testimony, tinged with suffering, and a sharp and accurate view on the tragedies of 20th-century totalitarianism.

"Russia today lost a great fighter for truth, who worked to reconcile the Russians with their past. The world loses a figure of freedom," Chirac added.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, called Solzhenitsyn "one of the greatest European writers of the 20th century .

The 1970 winner of the Nobel prize for literature was remembered by the head of the institute that designates the award.

"With his descriptions of the (prison) camps, he opened the eyes of many on the left and forced them to reconsider communism," Horace Engdahl, head of the Swedish Academy, told the Aftonbladet daily's website.

Solzhenitsyn refused to travel to Sweden to collect his Nobel prize, for fear of not being allowed to return to his homeland.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Solzhenitsyn was "a central character in the tragic history of 20th century Russia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid tribute to Solzhenitsyn as a "great writer and a moral witness."

"Solzhenitsyn was a great writer and a moral witness bringing the evils of the gulag to the attention of the world," she said.

"His brave and arduous life's journey, which included surviving the gulag, internal and external exile, made him one of the 20th century's most important voices in the struggle against the tyranny of totalitarian regimes."

The Chinese Writers Association, the official state-controlled literary organisation, declined to comment, saying it had no expert on Russian literature.