By Natalia DVALI
I do not know who was interviewing whom. During the most part of our conversation Vladimir Voynovich was rather asking questions about Ukraine than answering mine: “Are there any shifts in fighting corruption?”, “Is that true that the Prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk made a statement about “invasion of soviet troops into Germany” on air of the German television channel or is it the Russian propaganda lying again?”, “Why the chief of the Donbas battalion, deputy Semen Semenchenko was so rude with the journalist of Hromadske channel?”.
The famous Russian writer, dissident, author of the trilogy about the soldier Ivan Chonkin and dystopian novel “Moscow 2042” Vladimir Voynovich does not just take interest in the news from Ukraine, but from the very first days has supported Maydan, condemned annexation of Crimea and came out against invasion of Donbas by the Russian troops. Ukraine is in many aspects a home country for Voynovich – he spent his childhood and youth in Zaporizhia and Kerch.
Voynovich moved to Moscow when he was 23, in 1956. He became famous for his poem “Fourteen minutes before start” which became an unofficial anthem of the soviet astronauts. Since the end of the 1960s his works have been published in Samizdat and abroad, in 1970s the USSR publishers seized printing Voynovich's works because of his human rights activity and satirical depiction of the soviet reality.
In 1975, after the foreign release of “Chonkin”, the dissident was summoned to the KGB “for a talk”. Another contact with the state security officers took place soon after the first one, this time in Metropol hotel, where Voynovich was poisoned with a psychotropic medication. The writer had been feeling bad for a long time, which affected his work on the sequel of “Chonkin”. After the incident Voynovich wrote an open letter to the KGB chairman and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Yuriy Andropov, applied to foreign mass media. The writer returned from the forced emigration a year before the dissolution of the USSR.
In his interview for GORDON Voynovich spoke on whether Maydan is possible in Russia, told that he reckons the former “Head of the Ministry of Defense of DNR” Igor Strelkov “the Russian variant of Islamic radicals” and why he supports the boycott of Russian writers in Ukraine.
– After the shooting of the Charlie Hebdo weekly the statements that dominated in the Russian blogosphere and mass media were the following: killing is wrong, but the French themselves provoked the terrorists acts with their caricatures of Mohammed. Do you agree with this?
– For Islamic radicals caricatures is just a motive. If there were no paintings, they would have found something else. So the statement that “they shouldn’t have been looking for troubles” is ridiculous. You will always find a trouble with those guys from Islamic fundamentalism, because they wage jehad against the other civilization.
The whole world turned into jungles, where there are tigers, lions and jackals. When you enter their territory or, on the contarty, they enter yours, you need to consider it. In some sense radicals start dictating their terms to the rest of the world. And if the world falls for this, they will consider it their victory, they are not happy with anything: neither the people of other religion, nor the laws of other countries or the facts that women do not wear hi-jabs.
– A year and a half ago the President of Russia Vladimir Putin endorsed a law on punishment for the violation of religious feelings, according to which the trespassers will face up to three years of imprisonment. Do you understand what the phrase “violation of religious feelings” means?
– Partly, yes. But I don't justify the punishment for it. When the girls from the Pussy Riot punk
band danced in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, they should have been simply turned out of the building, not put to prison. I am not religious, but if I enter a church I take off my hat. It is common courtesy. I don't understand why offending people on purpose?
A small example: I used to say “on Ukraine” before, now it's only “in Ukraine”, because I know that Ukrainians are insulted by that “on”. I even dispute with Russian scholars who claim that according to Russian grammar rules we should say “on Ukraine”. In this case it is not even about grammar, it's about political lies.
I have goofed on soviet ideology and Putin's regime, on bigotry and hypocrisy a lot myself. But I still do not understand why insulting what some people consider their relics? I am not religious, but I would never depict Christ in an inappropriate way. However, it has nothing to do with the bastards who have assassinated the French caricaturists.
– I am sorry, but the officials of the Russian Orthodox Church insult human brain so often that I would not mind if someone insulted their feelings. And the Charlie Hebdo caricaturists did not really laugh at the relics, they ridiculed political goofiness covered with religion.
– Some Russian Orthodox are still ready to rip the Pussy Riot girls to shreds, they are convinced that two years of prison is a punishment not sufficient for dancing in a church. It is also religious intolerance which I, pardon the tautology, do not tolerate.
There are territories, where you need to abide by the set rules, for everything. Breaking these rules must be punished in a civilized way: a return article, court, or a fine. In his blog on the site of the Echo of Moscow radio station the Russian caricaturist Andrey Bozhko described perfectly the Paris terrorist attack: “Telling that these savages have been insulted is nonsense. It is impossible to explain these monsters that you can respond to a picture only with a picture, to word only with a word. Caricatures can be done for everybody and by everybody. “Can you draw caricatures on the Holocaust?” I am often being asked by some citizens. Go ahead! If you find it funny that millions of people were destroyed in gas cells – go ahead... I will not encourage killing you for this, but for me you will exist in a different space and a different world. Where I will never go. This is my choice. And don't you come to my world either. Especially with a gun”.
I would treat a person insulting others' relics with disgust and contempt, but I would never kill them.
– Mikhail Khodorkovsky urges Russian mass media to reprint French caricatures, and the Echo of Moscow radio station held an opinion poll among its listeners on “whether publishers should print the caricatures of Mohammed in response to the shooting at Charlie Hebdo”. As a result the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov accused the chief editor of the Echo Alexei Venediktov of “insulting the Muslims of Russia”, and called Khodorkovsky his “personal enemy”.
– if the Chechen leader called me his personal enemy, I would take this really seriously. Kadyrov is an Islamic radical, what he wrote to Khodorkovsky and Kadyrov is a direct physical intimidation. The Head of the Chechen Republic has long ago established the sheriat law at his territory, which Russia has been conquering with so much blood and effort.
– In Ukraine many people believe that Russia won't be able to withstand the sanctions of the West and will ultimately fall apart. Do you share this opinion?
– If Putin gets stuck deeper in Donbas and launches a full-scale war, it is not only Ukraine that will fall apart, but Russia as well. Though there is still a chance: the President of the RF has been losing ground lately, to a great dissatisfaction of the guys like Igor Strelkov. By the way, Strelkov and his fanatics will soon turn into a Russian variant of Islamic radicals themselves: they will form terroristic groups and start killing people of beliefs different from theirs. However, they already did it in the Eastern Ukraine.
– Do you, as a citizen of Russia, feel the pressure of the western sanctions?
– Of course, I do. I have just been to a supermarket. The prices have considerably gone up. But I am not just a citizen of Russia, I am also a citizen of Germany. Noone has hindred me from going abroad so far.
– How true is the statement that “the party of refrigerators” will soon defeat “the party of TV sets”, in other words impoverished people will forget all the propaganda and start their own anti-Putin Maydan?
– I don't feel such moods among the Russians. There is dismay, but there is no protest. The Ukrainian people are more passionate, and Russians are used to abiding. In other countries, when a person is illegally arrested by the police, tens of thousands of people take to the streets. In Russia you kill, jail, steal and stay unpunished – nobody makes a move. Although recently the case of the oppositionist Alexey Navalny made a couple thouthands people gather in the center of Moscow, and in August, 1991, multimillion anti-communist demonstration took place, so nothing is impossible.
Russians got used to responding to all the difficulties and forfeits with the words: “If only there were no war”. I remember in the soviet time if you complained about deficit in the shops, the whole line would pounce upon you: did you forget how people ate orach during war and blockade?
– Do you mean that current state of Russia is caused not by its president, but by the infinite patience of its own citizens?
– No, it is all to a great extent about Putin! In Russia, in the person of Putin, the party of the soviet revanchists won the day. In this sense the war in Donbas is the war for the Soviet Union that suffered a smashing defeat in 1991. Not a single soviet patriot made a stand for the USSR then, they all lurked instead. And now they are trying to take revenge.
I am very pleased by the fact, that in Ukraine they started to tear down monuments to Lenin. Some people consider it vandalism, but I welcome such a leninfall, because what could be called real vandalism, was establishing such statues throughout the Union. Ukraine really says goodbye to its soviet past, someone just cannot come to terms with it.
– There has been 24 years from the dissolution of the USSR, a new generation of the Russians has arisen, many of them have studied or travelled in the West. So where does that desire to revive the Soviet Union come from?
– Back in 1991 I wrote, that the soviet regime had collapsed, but a soviet man would live long. Not just live, but pass on his features from generation to generation. I may not live through, but I really hope that Russia will approach Europe in the foreseeable future. There is no other way out. The chekists have already occupied and plundered the whole country, people cannot ignore it. Though, they say, Ukraine is far ahead of Russia in the matter of corruption. I find it hard to believe yet.
Many people say again and again: I don't need freedom, if only there were enough sausage. But if there is no freedom and democracy, there won't be sausage either. I call for European mode of life, because where there is freedom, both material and moral life is better: there is less banditism, road traffic accidents and so on. Besides, Europe, Russia and Ukraine have one common enemy – Islamic fundamentalism, against which they need to stick together and fight.
– Are you disappointed in post-Maydan Ukraine?
– No. I keep a close eye on everything that is going on in your country. I really appreciate the fact that Ukraine is not just aimed at Europe, but also strains after European values. And that was why I approved of Maydan. The intention of your state to join NATO seems right to me. If Ukraine turned its back on Europe, I would not approve of it, because I do care.
I also care about what is going on in Russia. I don't like Putin's regime. I don't respect it. I do not respect the country with such regime either. But I remember how in 1991 Russia took one step forward democracy, and then considerably stepped back. If it takes another step it will become a different country. Look at Germany: it used to be Nazi, it was treated with coontempt and hatred, now it's a totally different country. Attitude towars the country depends on the regime that exists in it.
Voynovich: “In Russia, in the person of Putin, the party of the soviet revanchists won the day”. President of the RF at the final press-conference, December, 2014. Photo: kremlin.ru
– As a citizen of Russia do you feel your personal responsibility for the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas?
– Do I really have to be responsible for everything, including the October revolution of 1917 and stalinism? When the guilt of the state authorities is shifted to the citizens – it is another kind of radicalism. I, as an individual, can do nothing against the actions of Putin, although I consider the annexation of Crimea and the war in the east of Ukraine a crime. I write about it, I talk about it and I protest as hard as I can, which means that I waive responsibility of myself.
– Why are there so many Russians, almost 84%, who support Putin's policy?
– I consider their behavior criminal. They believe that the transference of Crimea to Ukraine in the soviet time was a wrong decision, but now Putin “restored political justice”. And I believe that invasion of a foreign territory is as mean as claiming that there are no Russian soldiers in Donbas.
– Does the fact that Ukrainians boycotte Russian products, including books by Russian authors, seem insulting to you?
– It is important that they boycotte, and it is also important that they do not let some Russians into their country. It is a distinct signal for the actors, directors and writers – don't be a jerk, then your works won't be forbidden in democratic countries.
I don't believe that genius and crime are compatible. If I know that the writer is a bad person, I will not read his works, no matter how outstanding they are. There are some young writers like Zahar Prilepin and Sergey Shargunov. I read one short novel by Prilepin, I didn't like it, and shargunov seemed a decent man and writer, but...
Shargunov comes to Donbas from time to time, and talks a lot about it. And recently he claimed: the militants do not accept Ukrainian humanitarian aid, and it is right, because Kyiv authorities have annoyed the citizens of Donbas! Lies! Those are the gunmen's commanders who do not let the aid through, and the residents of eastern Ukraine would accept anything, because in the state of war they do not really care who brings them food, they just need to survive, especially in winter.
When the writers like these come to Donbas and tell “what horrors the Ukrainian army does” and how “noble militants are” they lie. I know that because I follow Ukrainian news, and not only on Russian TV. And I also know that Ukraine needs to both win the war in Donbas and defeat corruption inside the country. It is very important.