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SOLZHENITSYN, Aleksandr



The Gulag Archepelago

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Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings. What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary to me. But just as the waves of the sea knock the inexperienced swimmer off his feet and keep tossing him back onto the shore, so also was I painfully tossed back on dry land by the blows of misfortune. And it was only because of this that I was able to travel the path which I had always really wanted to travel.

It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either but right through every human heart and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains… an unuprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.

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Cancer Ward

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It is not our level of prosperity that makes for happiness but the kinship of heart to heart and the way we look at the world. Both attitudes lie within our power, so that a man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy, and no one can stop him.

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Een dag uit het leven van Ivan Denisovitsj

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Meestal werd om vijf uur in de ochtend de reveille geslagen, te weten met een hamer op een stuk spoorwegrail dat naast de blokhut van de kampcommandant hing. De stug afgebroken geluiden drongen haast niet door de vensterruitjes waarop een vorstlaag van twee duim dikte lag, en eindigden vrijwel zodra ze begonnen. Buiten was het ijskoud en de bewaker had geen zin heel lang het bevel tot wakker worden af te hameren.

Hier, jongens, heerst de wet van de taiga. Maar zelfs hier spelen sommigen het nog klaar te blijven leven. Weet je wat voor lui er in het kamp onderdoor gaan? Dat zijn de kerels die de etensrestjes van anderen oplikken, die nog geloven in de wetenschap van de dokters en die hun kameraden verlinken.’

Niets is zo wrang als het moment waarop je aantreedt voor het morgenappèl. In het donker, in de kou, met van honger rammelende ingewanden, sta je daar met een dag van werken in het vooruitzicht. Je tong is verlamd. Je hebt elk verlangen overboord gegooid om tegen wie ook maar een woord te zeggen.

En de gevangenen, die al rijen van vijf gevormd hadden, kwamen los van de grote troep en marcheerden een stukje naar voren, zodat ze aan voor- en achterkant worden bekeken: vijf koppen, vijf ruggen, tien poten.

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