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Russian TV Pulls the Plug on Solzhenitsyn’s Biting Talk Show

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, banished into exile for his anti-Soviet writings 21 years ago, has lost his voice again. Russian Public Television has canceled his Monday night talk show.

The 15-minute program, aired twice a month in prime time for the past year, served up scolding monologues by the bearded Nobel laureate against post-Soviet Russia and the leaders who welcomed him home in May, 1994.

A network spokesman said “A Meeting With Solzhenitsyn” was one of 10 political shows being axed to make way for campaign programming in the run-up to Russia’s Dec. 17 parliamentary elections.

“The decision,” the spokesman told the Itar-Tass news agency, “was by no means connected with the writer’s personality or political convictions.”

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But Natalia Solzhenitsyn said the cancellation smacked of Soviet times, when her husband was persecuted as a dissident. A message left on his answering machine told Russia’s most celebrated living writer that the network had already pulled the plug.

“He wasn’t even allowed to say goodby to his audience,” Mrs. Solzhenitsyn said. “They want to get rid of all broadcasts critical of the current state of things. . . . They don’t want to hear the truth.”

The program was the second victim of the network’s fall reshuffling. A weekly public affairs program, “Versions,” was knocked off the air Friday after reporting on what it called questionable financial dealings by the wife of Russia’s prosecutor general.

A network spokesman said the show’s host, Sergei Dorenko, had “an unsuitable approach to the Russian political landscape.”

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Russian Public Television, created from state television last year, is owned by the government, which holds a 51% share, and a consortium of banks and businesses in favor with President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Because the network is the only one reaching the entire Russian Federation, control of its programming is a big issue in the parliamentary campaign. Solzhenitsyn made no friends at the network by using the airwaves to criticize its directors as a pro-Establishment clique.

Then there was the matter of the 76-year-old writer’s television ratings--not exactly soaring.

Solzhenitsyn returned home from Vermont last year as a celebrity, but he soon found that his prophetic voice no longer commanded rapt attention in a politically apathetic homeland. His historic tomes exposing the Soviet prison camp system are no longer widely read here.

Turning to a lowbrow medium he once scorned, Russia’s mournful sage began his talk show as a host, seated in his book-lined study. After seven months, he dispensed with all guests to rail alone against “brainless” free-marketeers and “shameless” bureaucrats, their policies in Chechnya and “neglect” of Russians abroad.


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