Personality against Mass Zombification
Modern propaganda is so shallow that seeking truth does not request great mental effort. A true European human cannot reduce Europe only to its western part. The Serbian people seem to Russians as their own reflection in the mirror and vice versa. Each culture is logocentric and we must pay attention to our words. A writer himself writes the laws he abides to. He is expected to see beneath the horizon, behind perspective. Those who considered reading entertainment and ”killing time” left, but it is not a big loss for true literature

By: Vesna Kapor
Photo: Guest’s Archive

Student of great Dmitry Likhachov. Expert in old Russian literature, with more than a hundred scientific essays. Editor in chief of almanac Text and Tradition, published by ”Pushkin’s Home” in St. Petersburg. One of the best and most awarded contemporary Russian writers. Author of excellent novels Abduction of Europe (2005), Solovyov and Larionov (2009), Laurus (2013), translated into Serbian. Dear and willing guest in Serbia.
Dr. Evgeny Germanovich Vodolazkin (Kiev, 1964) answered the questions of National Review last year in St. Petersburg.

In your literary opus, word is a cure. ”Every word already belongs to someone. But, belonging to many, it belongs to no one. Words belong to God and we take them as a favor.” Does a word have the magical heaviness and purpose in these times?
Of course it does. Every culture is logocentric. Even in music and painting, at the end the most important is the word. A word can be a cure and a poison, depending what and how it is. Even though, as Tyutchev says, ”we are not given the ability to predict how our word will echo”, we should attempt to predict. And pay attention to our words.

You have a different narrative perspective in all three of your novels. You simultaneously perceive many things that bother contemporary man: question of morality, existence of God, national identity, ideological passions... Is the obligation of a writer to be the conscience and consolation of the world?
Each writer determines his own obligations. He himself writes the laws he abides to. These laws reflect the personality of the writer and features of the culture he lives in. A writer has a special place in Russian culture. Evgeny Yevtushenko says: ”A poet in Russia is more than a poet.” He cannot be a private person, representative of a profession, such as a baker or football coach. People expect at least encouragement and support from him, if not prophecy. A Russian reader believes that a writer must see behind the perspective. This expectation can be strongly felt when meeting readers – by the scope of questions asked. Obviously, we writers are far from being able to always fulfill such expectations. Most writers are ordinary people, with limited abilities. But, there come times when these weak people exceed themselves by collecting the energy of the nation.


At one point you say: ”Every general has his historian.” You are the proponent of the idea that historical ”proven truths” must be repeatedly researched, with light shed on them from another aspect?
History is a vulnerable lady and requests a very caring relationship. One of such relationships is an objective approach towards the past. History must not be a political instrument or means of ideological fight. The present time is one of the hardest for history. Never has there been such perfidious sadism over history. Just look at the interpretations of World War II created during the past few decades. It seemed that everything we know about that war belonged to ”proven truths” you mentioned. Still, in many countries of the Eastern Bloc, those truths have been adapted to the point that their own mother could not recognize them. Difficult questions are desirable and important in historical research, but they should be real questions, not forgeries. Only then could they enhance historical science.

”While reading Laurus, I wished to become a saint”, wrote Zakhar Prilepin. Truly, the way you built time and story in this novel surpasses any possible understanding of reality. One easily moves into the book, it is the particle every human seeks within. How did you decide to write a hagiography of Saint Xenia of St. Petersburg and how did you write it?
The main character of Laurus has several prototypes. Yes, it is also Xenia of St. Petersburg, but not only her. It’s also Varlaam Keretsky, Basil the Blessed, Andrey Yurodivy and many others. The portrait of a saint is a compound of destinies of several people who lived in Russia and abroad. I tried to fill the novel with their energy, to explain the contemporary reader that a saint is not an abstract or literary concept, that it is not a human who never makes mistakes, but one who can truly repent. Readers will judge whether I have succeeded in my attempt.


Does a contemporary human need literature?
Undoubtedly, yes. On the other hand, the role of literature in the society has changed. Earlier, literature included a strong and attractive entertaining element. Now life has become very rich in entertainment means. Most of those who used to read thrillers realized that it is much easier to turn on the video or simply play a computer shooting game. Those who searched for simplified shortcuts and superficiality found them outside of literature. The fact that they stopped reading is not a big loss for literature. However, those who were interested in human and life in its entire complexity remained faithful to literature. It seems to me that a contemporary reader is much deeper than the one twenty years ago.

How much did the human change through the centuries you write about? How did the category of freedom become the category of slavery?
The human did change. The essential sign of such changes was their relation to freedom. At a certain point, freedom became an end in itself, although it is actually only a means of reaching a certain objective. It is the ”freedom for”,constructive and creative. At the same time, there is the ”freedom from”, without creativity, only demolition. This kind of freedom is prevailing today. It is a freedom which turns a human into a destruction machine and finally destroys him.

Do you think it is possible to remain outside of the hysteria of modern technology and consumer mentality?
Of course it’s possible. One should simply think about the hierarchy of values. About what is important in life and what is not. My novel Laurus is an invitation to think that way. In my protest against the ideology of consumption, I decided to turn to the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages can be evaluated in different ways, but all, whether they evaluate it positively or negatively, have a common opinion: the ideology of consumption is not one of its features. God and His commandments were in the center of the world. They don’t include commandments: purchase! buy! spend!

Is the past always a finished thing?
It is never a finished thing. Be it good or bad, the past always continues. We must not pretend as if something did not happen. Already the fact that we remember it extends its existence.


Abducting Europe is an intriguing title. In this novel, some young people, idealists, try to give birth to a truly new Europe, to abduct it from the system of corrupted and destructive elites, whose only principle is the ”desire for power”. However, such an endeavor could not be realized, at least not in the novel. Is Europe possible as an ideal community of different countries, with truly humanistic principles?
I used to have such hopes. In general, I can say about myself that I am a pro-European man. However, I do not consider Europe unilaterally. I don’t reduce it only to its western part. Those who speak about Europe often forget that Russia is Europe as well, not less European than Western Europe.
There is a ”myth” that Russia merges Europe and Asia within itself. Such a view is unsustainable for those who know Russian history and culture. Even the eastern topics, present in the literature of old Russia, did not come from the East; they came from the West, with Spanish mediation. Western Europe is the heir of Rome, while Russia is the heir of Constantinople. Besides Providence that led it, turning of the Russian people towards Constantinople was, if you wish, also a political choice. In the X century, Byzantium was the only medieval super-state. Only taking into consideration all these circumstances, European harmony can be established today and we can attain Europe considering Russia as its integral part.

You write about the relation between America and Russia. On personal level, both think that ”life is made of small things” and that ”history exists only for those who pay attention to it”. However, on historical level, conflicts are unavoidable?
The period we are now living in the relations between Russia and America is not simple. Several present dramas reflect the battle of the unipolar world with the multipolar one. However, as in the case with Europe, I’m an optimist. My optimism is not romantic; it is very pragmatic. When they accept the strengthening of Russia as a new (actually old) status quo, the Americans, pragmatic as they are, will weaken their efforts, they will ease the pressure. First, they never start a battle without big chances to win. Second, they will realize, I suppose, that Russians are not their enemies. Third, it will become clear to everyone (including Americans) that any phenomenon in the world must have two poles. Otherwise the construction is unstable, finally unsustainable. And this instability is dangerous for all sides.
Regardless of the present cooling of relations between Russia and America, I was more worried about them 10 or 15 years ago. Now the cooling reached its climax, but all changes must inevitably go through sharpening. It is like a disease and I believe we are now on a way of recovering from it.


It seems that it is clear to everyone how the media create images of good and bad. Winners and losers. Victims and villains. Still, it continues happening everywhere. How is that possible?
It was always so and unfortunately will remain so. The well-known saying that ”history is written by the victors” can be paraphrased as: ”Events are interpreted by the strongest ones.” The media is turning into means of mass propaganda everywhere. It is important to realize it and know to separate facts from comments. Propaganda has a sad feature: it rarely cares about proof. Its rule is that the most repeated things become the truth. However, this can also be viewed from a different aspect: you see what is mostly repeated in the media, compare it to available facts and ask yourself whether it is true. In other words – one should simply turn on his brain and analyze events. Contemporary propaganda is so shallow and scarce that seeking truth does not request too strong mental efforts.

Religion and spirituality appear in all three of your novels as sanctuary and meaning. Are they the strongest and final defense from the aggressiveness of the ”new world order”?
Yes, they are. The thing is that Christianity is a deeply personal religion, as personal as our response at the Final Judgment. The principle of personality is most efficient in fighting against mass zombification. That is the exact reason why many totalitarian regimes were afraid of Christianity. Pay attention: the object of propaganda is always the mass, never a single person.

Russian woman appears in your literature as something extraordinary. What is a woman today in such a world?
Russian woman is truly special. Our difference from the West is most noticeable in this aspect. Russian women do not tend to establish themselves as sociological institutions. They achieve all their victories in the family, without destroying the family as an institution. What is the point of the western habit of signing a marriage contract, when its real background is actually the certainty of divorce?
By the way, about family. Already in the XVII century, women in Russia were legal subjects, meaning they could dispose with their property personally, not through their husband or father. The situation in the West was much less democratic. Feminism is not popular in Russia, since the freedom western women are fighting for have existed in Russia for a long time. Soviet women, for example, were free to work in ”male professions”, but it did not bring them any luck. Our woman wants to be weak and protected by a man. Russian women are led by a simple concept that equality is not the main objective of male or female existence. Yes, if God created men and women to be different, it means there is a difference in the purpose of their existence. If you think about it, you will realize that it is not inequality, just being different.


Exception Called Serbia
– Already in the Soviet times, the compound ”friendship of nations” was doubtful to me. I felt something demagogical, artificial in it. People can be friends, nations cannot, let alone countries. I have preserved such an attitude to the very day. With one exception: Serbia. The thing is not in the fact that Serbs supported us in the most tragic moments in history and did not change their views according to current benefits. It is love for a nation that seems to the Russians as their own reflection in the mirror. As far as I can see, Serbs have a similar relation towards Russians. How to explain that Serbs saved tens thousands of Russians after the October Revolution in Russia? There was nothing rational in it. It was just an expression of love and philanthropy, which remains deeply rooted in the Russian memory.


Awakening and the Golden Mean
– After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Russians spread their arms out to Europe. They received a cold response: don’t come too close, we are too different. At the same time, regardless of the present plots, Russia and Europe coming closer seems likely to me. I think that Europe is becoming more aware that the inevitability is not only in Russian gas, but also in the values of the Russian view of the world. Both Western Europe and Russia made many mistakes. Perhaps this is strengthening the mutual aspiration to find a golden mean.


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