MOSCOW -- Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn returned to Moscow last night, greeted by a downpour and an ambivalent crowd.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn came home after 20 years in exile and 56 days of a grand procession across Russia. The more than 1,000 people who came to meet him were as diverse as the country now trying to find its way to a new future.
Some cheered him; others held signs exhorting, "Solzhenitsyn Get Out of Russia." Parents came with children. The Nobel Prize-winning writer and former dissident, who exposed the evils of the Soviet labor camps, repeated what he has been saying since his arrival in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East in May.
"We have tried to break away from communism, but again and again we have taken an inconvenient, absurd, the hardest and most twisted path," he said. "You can hear moans from everywhere, that now, again, the government is not fulfilling its obligations to its citizens."
Mr. Solzhenitsyn made the long journey across Russia in a private railway car, paid for by the British Broadcasting Corp., which bought the rights to document his journey. Along the way, he stopped to listen to the citizenry.
Now, he said, he wants to make those in power listen to the voices he heard.
"Nobody expected that the way out of communism would be painless," he said. "But nobody expected it would be so painful."
Mr. Solzhenitsyn stood on a platform outside the faded Yaroslavl Train Station, still crowned with a hammer and sickle and the Russian letters for U.S.S.R.
But he could hardly escape the changes that have taken place. Across the street huge signs proclaimed the presence of a fast-food restaurant, The American Potato, in both Russian and English. A perky spud in a chef's hat was lit up by blue lights. Inside, the shelves were full of Coca-Cola, and the cooks were busying preparing hot dogs and french fries.
"Private property is the source of all evil," proclaimed one sign in the crowd at the station. Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who has railed against foreign ownership of land in Russia, himself owns property in Vermont, where he spent much of his exile.
"No to the Americanization of Russia," another sign said.
Many in the crowd heartily agreed with the holder of this placard: "You are the conscience of our people."
At the very front stood 52-year-old Galina Korshunova, who had arrived at 2 in the afternoon to await Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who didn't arrive until almost 9 p.m.
"I have no words to express my love for him," she said, holding a still life of daisies she had painted for him. "He is a great person, who thinks about his nation. It will lift a spiritual burden from us to be with this great person."
Mrs. Korshunova was able to pass the painting up to him but was unable to get the autograph she hoped for. But she was glad she had come, even if she was drenched.
Mikhail Popov, 17, was passing by and stopped to see what was going on. "I am not a person who is fond of Solzhenitsyn," he said. "Nothing will change in our country because of his return."
Alexander Glushenko, 50, a radiation specialist, left for home still carrying the red carnation he couldn't get close enough to give to Mr. Solzhenitsyn.
"He's a symbol of the conscience of the Russian nation," Mr. Glushenko said.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn, he said, can restore morality to Russia. "This is his most important duty."
The writer himself seems eager to take on that role. "Some people have saved their spiritual health and will rebuild the country. From my side, I will try to help to overcome the illness of our country."
And off he went, accompanied by his family and all the contradictions of today's Russia, including the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, who is often accused of being too powerful and peremptory if not corrupt, and a dissident priest, the Rev. Gleb Yakunin, a leading reformer who has been disciplined by the Orthodox Church for being too politically active.