Staunton, Sept. 27 – Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for her works on live under communism and after, says she was naïve to think that the homo sovieticus the communists created had disappeared, a conclusion she signaled in her last book, Second-Hand Man (2013), when she subtitled it “The End of the Red Man.”
Speaking in Vilnius over the weekend, she said that as someone who is both Belarusian and Ukrainian, what has happened in Belarus and even more in Ukraine in recent months have convinced her that homo sovieticus is still very much around and that she is writing a new book about his survival (ehorussia.com/new/node/26904).
When Putin invaded Ukraine, she was in tears; but when Ukrainians stood up and fought back, she was proud that they have “given us all a chance to believe in our common future.” According to Alexievich, “it is difficult even to imagine what the world would be like if Putin won. But he will not win.”
Instead, what is happening is the final and real collapse of the Soviet Union. “It had seemed to us that this would take place without blood,” the Nobelist says. But that was wrong. “There has been a great deal of blood, and there will be more.” Indeed, what is happening with Russia today in Ukraine is a replay of what happened to the USSR with Afghanistan.
“The very same crematoria which they try to hide. The very same deception of mothers and the people about how many have died and how they have died.” But that didn’t work 40 years ago, and it won’t work now, Alexievich says.
Putin has invested “enormous sums in promoting his idea about the future of Russia, one in which the empire will come back. When there was democracy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin, television didn’t speak with people. The elite in Moscow and St. Petersburg spoke with one another. Putin took this mistake into consideration.”
The writer says that she recently was travelling on a train and an old man said to her: “you know, we have lived our entire life in a camp. Suddenly the gates were opened and we were let out. But we did not know what freedom is, where we should go and what we should do. And those on top started doing precisely what they had done before. Its happening before our eyes.”
Today, she says that in addition to her book about events in Ukraine, she is working on three manuscripts, one about love, another about aging, and a third about the Belarusian revolution of 2020.
The Belarusian revolution convinced her that she wanted to live in that country among her own people. She no longer wanted to leave. But she doesn’t want to see the revolution triumph through bloodshed. Unfortunately, Belarus is now an occupied country. Moscow is making the decisions, not even Lukashenka.
Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine has had a profound effect on her professional life, the Belarusian writer continues. Many in Europe don’t want to have spectacles about her book on Russian losses because there is no sympathy for Russians; and some in Hollywood won’t produce films based on her works for the same reason.
Despite all that, Alexievich concludes, there are reasons for optimism. “Where are Hitler and Stalin now?” she asks pointedly. “No one can stop the march of time, and the period of dictators is going to become a past we will curse. People of my generation may not live to see that, but that it will happen is something I have no doubt about at all.”