Germany: Govt declares Russian diplomat “persona non grata” in tit-for-tat response
Famous writer in an interview; Voice of America told that the government reads his books, but does not listen to his advice
Vladimir Voinovich came to St. Petersburg to participate in the annual festival in memory of Sergei Dovlatov. In addition, his plans include a creative evening at the Great Choral Synagogue and communication with journalists. During his current visit to the city on the Neva, he gave his first interview to the Voice of America.
Anna Plotnikova: In your recent journalistic notes, you talk more about certain political problems of modern Russia than about literature. And interviewers ask you questions about how you managed to predict what will happen with Russia more than thirty years ago. It turns out that Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s line “The poet in Russia is more than a poet” is justified.?
Vladimir Voinovich: Yes, it’s true, I always add: “but less than a prose writer” (laughs). But seriously, in order to anticipate something, you can turn on your intuition, or you can just carefully observe what is happening today. And try to guess which trends will develop, and what will come of it.
This is how I looked at the situation in the eighties: the church is merging with the state, the KGB is taking over the party and will one day oust the party from the political arena. Plus, there are some good ideas. Let’s say I have invented that in the future, the resident of Soviet intelligence in Germany will become Genialissimus. But the fact is that I myself was then living in Germany, so it happened by accident. Maybe if I then lived, say, in Spain, I would have written that he used to spy in Spain.
A.P .: It seems that the Russian authorities have taken Vladimir Voinovich’s satirical dystopia as a guide to action. Of course, after creatively finalizing it. But, nevertheless, the scandal around the film Matilda, which has not yet been presented to the viewer, the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov and the staff of the Seventh Studio he runs, Nikita Mikhalkov’s attacks on the Yeltsin Center and sharp criticism of the executive secretary of the Patriarchal Council for Culture Tikhon Shevkunov of the views Alexander Sokurov on Russian history – these and other similar facts suggest that in the mid-1980s you wrote not a dystopia, but a chronicle of modern Russia.
V.V .: I’m flattered if you think so. Yes, everything is turning out that way, but the fact is that our country itself is striving for dystopia..
The fact is that I myself am to some extent a utopian and I think that everything will not be as I write in books, but better. I am simply warning the authorities: if you continue to pursue such a policy, this is where you yourself will go and bring the people with you. So – you don’t have to do what is written in my books, and if my predictions do not come true, then okay – I will only be glad. So I advise them to do the opposite, but they do not listen to me and do everything as it is written in my books. And that worst case scenario I’m guessing is starting to take shape.
The fact is that in the 90s it seemed to me that history went the other way, and – thank God! And let them tell me that I was wrong in everything. I had an answer to this: I’m just a writer, and everything written is the fruit of my fantasies and nothing else. But, unfortunately, then what I fantasized began to happen.
A.P .: Recently, more and more opposition civic activists are leaving for the West. The last example is Ivan Nepomnyashchikh, a person involved in the Bolotnaya case. He was already met in Prague …
V.V .: Yes, I read about it …
A.P .: Earlier, some economists, cultural figures, successful businessmen left. You know from your own experience what forced emigration is. Do you admit that at some point you may find yourself in Russia persona non grata?
V.V .: It seems to me that I am already such a “persona half-grata”. True, no one says anything to me, and I do not receive any “signals”, but – at least judging by what is happening and by my feelings, this is so.
And what is happening with Russia, I can figuratively describe this way: our country is a camp with prisoners. There was a very nightmarish period, the camp was of a strict regime, they walked there only in shackles and only in formation. Then there was a “thaw”, and the authorities said: “Take off the shackles and you can move freely, but only inside the zone.” It was such a relief.
And now the gates were opened: “Get out of here, please, wherever you want!” But inside the order is still the same. So you can blame, or you can stay. But if you stay, you will obey discipline, praise your superiors, say that everything is fine, clap your hands, strongly criticize the administration and protest against its actions. True, you can, kneeling down, say: “It would be nice if you added our rations.” And so – to go out to the square and loudly demand something – this is prohibited! If you want – leave, if you want to return – please. But our conditions are like this.
A.P .: Last year you came to St. Petersburg to present your book “Raspberry Pelican” here. How can you assess the reaction of both the average audience and the authorities to it? Do you have any information on whether the prototypes of your latest book learned themselves?
V.V .: No, I did not receive any signs “from above”. But the people are reading this book. It’s a little strange for me to talk about this, but previously a circulation of 20 thousand copies was considered negligible. True, I know that there are writers who are still being published in hundreds of thousands. So – now my circulation of 20 thousand was immediately sold out, and the second circulation has already been released. Well, that means this book attracts attention. Although, by the way, I have not read any reviews of it and have not even seen that they were published somewhere.
A.P .: In Russia, the wording has long been popular: “The tsar is good, but the boyars are bad.” And now voices are being heard that everything bad comes from the siloviki, from unbelievable clerics and self-styled patriots, whether it be the deputy Poklonskaya, the military restorer Girkin, or the prankers Lexus and Vovan. And Putin, as he can, restrains the onslaught of reactionaries, otherwise it would be absolutely bad. How can you comment on this situation, and to what extent do you think the current president is responsible for what is happening in the politics, economy and public life of the country??
V.V .: He is definitely responsible. And I believe that when he came to power, it was such an intermediate period, and he could well have moved Russia in the right direction. This is very important – the will of the “main character”. And he immediately began to focus on old people, turned to veterans, to people of my current age, to front-line soldiers or to rear-servicemen who pretended to be front-line soldiers. He turned to them and asked: “Do you want to return the old anthem?” And they answered: “Of course we do!” True, the old hymn contained the words “Stalin raised us”, and they really wanted these words to remain, but, as a last resort, they agreed, let it be without Stalin.
These were people of the past, they were corrupted by the Stalinist system. And [Putin] did not take into account at all that 17 years after his coming to power, other people would grow up whom Stalin did not raise. And that they will use the Internet, catch Pokemon, and so on. And that all the militaristic propaganda with tanks driving around Red Square will hardly touch them. They are told that it is very good to die for their homeland, as it used to be. And they mostly prefer to live for their homeland. I think so, anyway. And if a more acute situation arises, then it will manifest itself.
And one more thing I would like to say. Many people say that Putin is the second Stalin, and I say that Putin is the new Lenin. Because both of them, Lenin and Putin, are tactics. In terms of how to seize power and how to keep it. And they don’t know what to do with this power. All Leninist communism turned out to be a utopia, and the path along which it led the country turned out to be false. They say that Lenin predicted everything brilliantly, but he was no genius, and if we talk about strategy, then he was a very stupid person. And he was a tactician, yes, a good one.
The same is with Putin. He seized power, holds it tightly, knows how and on what levers to push. But if he had the ambition of a real politician, he would not have acted that way. He would understand that he needs to focus on people who are growing up, that he needs to look into the future and move forward. And not to plant the “Lakes” cooperative around you and other similar things.
On September 26, Vladimir Voinovich will turn 85 years old. On this day, he will spend his creative evening in Moscow at the Central House of Writers. At the end of September it is also planned to release his new book called “The Murzik Factor”. The writer said that he tried to predict how a seemingly insignificant incident could affect the mood of the entire country..