In a theater piece entitled “The Prisoners”, Solzhenitsyn illustrated the price paid by those who serve the Empire and the gift granted to those who struggle against it. Here is the key dialog of this drama. It confronts Vorotyntsev, а monarchist White Russian officer about to be executed and Roublev, an officer of the Soviet secret police who suffers from terminal cancer.
Hands behind his back, Vorotyntsev enters the room. Roublev decisively waves the escort away. The latter, annoyed, walks past Vorotyntsev and leaves.
Roublev. How are you feeling, Georgii Michailovich? (Stands up. Turns on the ceiling light.)
Vorotyntsev. You will be disappointed. Good.
Roublev. You did not expect this call, did you?
Vorotyntsev. I have signed all the papers, what else?
Roublev. It is just that… Well, I just wanted to let you know… privately – you see… your case has been passed on to the military tribunal – the session is tomorrow.
Vorotyntsev. You shouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to inform me on this.
Roublev. Apart from that… (An acute fit of pain. His head tilted back, Roublev staggers across the room. Stumbles upon an arm-chair, sits down. Puts himself together.) Apart from that, I was going to forewarn you that your fate is…
Vorotyntsev. Predetermined? I knew that. Everyone’s is.
Roublev. Yes, but in a different way.
Vorotyntsev. I know that as well. Gun.
Roublev. (Steadfast gaze) You are mistaken. Hanging.
Vorotyntsev. (Sedate) In a sneaking manner, of course? Somewhere in alleys?
Roublev. The day after tomorrow.
Vorotyntsev. So I have figured out. Is that all?
Roublev. What else do you want?
Vorotyntsev. What else can I ask the Bolshevik authority for? Only the edge. Can I take my leave?
Roublev. Do you really prefer there to here? It is fresh air here, cozy chairs; there – stink, shit, straw.
Vorotyntsev. People are pure there.
Roublev. Now you will understand what it was I called you for. Sit down. Not there – here, on the couch!
Vorotyntsev sits down, but there – at the table for convicts. Roublev moves to him, dragging a chair behind. Sits close to the table.
Roublev. Tell me, colonel, why are your eyes shining so brightly? Why are your shoulders not bent? Why is your head not lowered? We will execute you and you know it, you have known it for a long time. You will die – you will die the day after tomorrow! Are you not scared having to part with your life, colonel, are you not? (Eying each other attentively) I am not asking out of mere curiosity. I am too condemned. I am too hopeless. I am terminally ill. Forget it what I was. I am not your foe anymore. I have called you out of compassion. I am no longer a foe for you.
Vorotyntsev. If only you were a foe! As a Russian saying goes, there is some goodness even in a Tatar. But you are not a foe. You are an executioner.
Roublev. Have you never had ones? Will you never have?
Vorotyntsev. Not in such numbers, not of this nature.
Roublev. I was just lying here, on this couch, in fever, in pain, and understood that they only needed me as long as I controlled them, pushed them in the back; now I am nothing but a burden, they haste to get rid of me, they even have a substitute handy… And I remembered you, going the same way, and I felt relieved… Forget it that I am a PCSS* (People’s Commissariat for State Security) colonel. This difference between us is very soon going to be eliminated. From a human to a human, from a wanderer to a wanderer, can you help me? advise me?..
Vorotyntsev. Truth be told, it is quite hard for me – just from a jail cell, right before being hanged – to be willing to help you.
Roublev. I understand that! But let us look deeper. I have never been a coward but if you only knew how frightened I am now! Why am I – who used to be a stone – now turning to rubble? I want to face the death with my eyes impudently bright – like yours. Teach me the secret of your strength.
Vorotyntsev. There is not any secret. I am 69 years old and I know that through all of them I was going the right way. Why should I lose heart now?
Roublev. Right? The right way? You are a military man. How many wars have you participated in?
Roublev. The war with Japan? You lost it. The one with Germany? You lost it.
Vorotyntsev. Not us. Because of you.
Roublev. The Civil war? You lost it too. The Second World War? Beaten, again.
Vorotyntsev. You have skipped the one with Spain.
Roublev. For twenty-eight years we have been beating you everywhere and in everything, today you are completely defeated – and you say you have no reason to lose heart? Your whole life way is the one of endless defeats – and you think it the right way?
Vorotyntsev. It is right because I had not erred which side to be on. I have always been on the right side – against you. Never swaying, never doubting that, perhaps, your way is the one that is truthful, perhaps, I should have chosen you… No. Every second of your triumph – against you. Yes, we have lost. But so have you. Therefore my eyes are shining; finally I see it – you have not won either.
To be with the Roublevs or the Vorotyntsevs of our times is the choice we all have. I would even say that we all have to choice whether to be Roublevs or Vorotyntsevs. Just like Roublev and Vorotyntsev, we will all die eventually. We cannot change that, but what we can change is how and whom we die. Do we die as faithful servants of the Empire, or will we die with Vorotyntsev’s light in our eyes?