In a searing lecture to Russia's Parliament, Alexander Solzhenitsyn appealed to those in power to worry less about their privileges and care more about the suffering of ordinary Russians who are confused by so much change.
In his thin, reedy voice, the writer and historian tried to take to the legislators the cares and concerns of the people he had met on his long train ride across Russia, after he returned home in May from 20 years' exile in the United States.
"Having visited many of Russia's regions, having met with hundreds of people and having received thousands of letters," he said Friday, "I have an impression our population is discouraged, that people are stupefied, in shock from their humiliation and shame because of their weakness. People doubt that the government's policy and reforms are in the interests of the people."
In his first official speech since returning to Russia, Solzhenitsyn, 75, said freedom had not brought the country true democracy, only the persistence of an expanded, selfish, suffocating bureaucracy now "repainted" in democratic colors. "This is not a democracy, but an oligarchy _ rule by the few," he said.
Some of the lawmakers, who were polite but restless in the hall, broke into applause at that point. But mostly there was silence, with some muttering of disagreement and some visible exits by politicians going out for a smoke.
"Power is not about getting things and not about pride, but about duty and obligations," Solzhenitsyn said, castigating the legislative and executive branches as bad examples.
Ordinary Russians remain alienated from power, he said, "indifferent to Moscow's politics and parties." For all the talk about crime-fighting, he said, Parliament has not yet passed a new civil or criminal code.
He called, as he has done before, for intensified local democracy through the restoration of pre-revolutionary local councils. He said he had told those Russians he had met that they must begin to change politics at the local level, voting for people they knew, "whom they can look in the face."
He always knew the emergence of Russia from the long disease of communism would be painful, he said, but declared that Russian leaders had taken "the most twisted, painful and awkward path."
He spoke for an hour. When he closed, with a call for a speedier advance toward real democracy, there was a smattering of applause, but no more.
Gennadi Burbulis, a legislator and former strategist for President Boris Yeltsin, said Solzhenitsyn was a sort of prophet "who doesn't care how his proposals can be turned into reality."
Yelena Bonner, the widow of dissident Andrei Sakharov, was also in the hall. Afterward, she agreed that the legislators were almost rude in their lack of interest. "They don't care," she said. "They're too far away from the common people."
Bill would test foreigners
for AIDS-causing virus
MOSCOW _ Russia's lower house of Parliament voted 247-1 Friday to require all foreigners who visit Russia to be tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The bill still must be passed by the upper house of Parliament and signed by President Boris Yeltsin. But if it becomes law, the measure would require those coming to Russia for "work or study or other purposes" either to be tested for HIV or to present a medical certificate showing they are HIV-negative. Foreign residents of Russia who test positive for the virus could be deported.
AIDS activists, doctors, and even an official in the Russian Health Ministry criticized the measure, saying it is costly and discriminatory, makes a travesty of medical privacy and violates international human rights conventions that Russia has signed.
Worse, they say, it will do nothing to stop the spread of AIDS in Russia.
"This might have been effective before, when Russians did not go abroad so much," said Nikolai Nedzelsky of the Russian Names Fund, which helps HIV-positive people. "Now many Russians are going overseas. . . . It's useless."
As of Aug. 15, 740 Russians and 450 foreigners were officially listed as infected with HIV, and 110 people had died of AIDS. Activists say the real numbers are much higher.
The testing measure, if passed, could well be defeated by logistics. Russian laboratories, which lag far behind those in the West, would face the prospect of testing the hundreds of thousands of foreigners.