In an interview to DW correspondent Nikita Zholkver, the famous writer Boris Akunin compared the current situation in Russia with the times between the two Russian revolutions.
Famous Russian writer Grigoriy Chkhartishvili, better known under his literary pseudonym Boris Akunin, participated in the past annual German-Russian Conference “Potsdam Meetings” between June 15th and 17th in the capital of the Brandenburg Bundesland. At the conference he read an excerpt from his book “Black City,” which is set at the eve of World War I. Does the writer see parallels with the current situation?
Boris Akunin: What is happening now in my country is extremely reminiscent of what was happening a hundred years ago. This is an inter-revolutionary period: the reaction, return to archaic times, harshening of moods, demonisation of opponents. All of this can be observed in today’s Russia, but luckily (I wouldn’t want to jinx it) on a very lowered and softened level. Now we observe the explosion of hurrah-patriotism, which is very similar to the explosion of the hurrah-patriotism that flooded Russia on the even of World War I, but I think that the second revolution won’t take long to come.
DW: How did it happen that you became one of the activists of Russian culture which have not submitted to this hurrah-patriotism?
Many did not submit to it. As to those who have, among them there are people who really do sincerely think so, who really do like everything Vladimir Putin is doing. There are people who think that democracy is not the Russian way. But there are others, which support the official line because the are not free. A person who owns a big theatre, museum or any other big project, who depends on the government, has to make a choice what is more important for them: their job or public position. For a person of a completely free profession, who does not depend on anyone, like myself, it is very easy to say what they really think. There is paper, a computer, and the Russian alphabet, you don’t need anything else.
If we are to talk about the people “who really sincerely thinks to,” are there grounds for anti-Ukrainian moods in Russia? They say they are brothers, and suddenly such hatred…
The issue is not the Ukrainian moods. I think there are none in Russia, probably…
And all these labels: fascists, Banderites, junta?…
This is all political rhetoric. The indignation with the Ukrainian Maidan has to do with the fact that Ukraine is escaping the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, and from the point of view of the Kremlin officials, this is bad and not right. They continue thinking in categories of the 20th century in 21st, when direct political influence was given hypertrophic significance. Currently, economical and cultural influences are much more important. They don’t understand this, and therein lies their problem.
Last week I spoke with Mikhail Khodorkovskiy. He thinks that Ukraine can become a laboratory of sorts. So, if Ukraine manages to become a normal legislative state, this may serve as an example for Russia. Do you agree?
God be willing for this to happen. To my mind, what is most important is how the newly-elected Ukrainian government will act. I think that Maidan is an anti-corruption revolution. Should the new government turn out to be as corrupt, nothing good will come of it. The new government has to behave flawlessly.
Recently you have made the prognosis that the current system of government in Russia will not hold for long, that Russia, in the short-term perspective, will become a normal democratic state. What are the grounds for your optimism?
In historical knowledge. In the clear understanding that the autocratic regime is archaic and ineffective. I am not talking from the perspective of abstract ideas and ethics. This regime cannot reign over a big and complex country for a long time. It is economically and organisationally ineffective. In the XXI century it is impossible to govern Russian with the help of handheld power, conducted by one person, without the mechanism of public control, containment and distribution of power. This will all end in bankruptcy, first and foremost, economically.
You once called Russia the heir of the “Golden Horde.” How do you explain the mental separation between Russia and Europe which is becoming deeper?
We are the way we are, this is our genetics. When I say that the Russian state is for the most part an hair not of the Byzantium or Western European, but the Golden-Horde tradition, this does not mean that I think that is completely bad. There are strong and weak sides to it. The Golden Horde heritage is not totally horrible. There are very productive and strong things there.
When we talk about the European or non-European ways of development, we usually mean a very simple thing: democracy or non-democracy. So the level of public participation in governing the country. But we know many examples of countries with very strong state traditions which evolved into different forms of government. For example, Japan, Germany. I think that a strong state in Russia is, of course, necessary, in any case, during the interim period. But it should not be strictly centralised, it should have not superficial but essential characteristics of real federalism. Besides, in Russia, where the tradition of abuse of power and corruptions are very deep-rooted, democratic institutions are essential, control on part of the parliament members, on part of the though not independent but variously dependent mass media. And, of course, it is impossible to live in a country which does not have independent courts.
You view Russia’s mental age as 15-16 years. Is it being hormonal?
Of course, it is hormonal. This is the age when the person has not yet learned to discipline themselves, they do not understand their responsibility very well. And most importantly: they do not understand the consequence of their behaviour very well either. Yes, in this sense we are a nation that is still in its adolescent stage.
Don’t you feel like leaving?
Sometimes. Periodically. Especially now. It became difficult and disagreeable to be in the country because of the fuelling of chauvinism and hurrah-patriotism. I left for Berlin from Moscow and had to enjoy the advertisement billboards all around Kutuzov prospect, on which the opposition is shown in the image of demons. I am there, with hooves. And this is my country, this is my city.
How do you view the chances of the protest movement in this light? Why is it not as massive as it was in Ukraine?
In Ukraine millions took to the streets because the people there lived very badly. Luckily, the people in Russia are rich. And while it is so, millions will not take to the streets. The people in Moscow went to the streets not for economical reasons, but for ethical, aesthetic ones. They want to live in a different society, participate in governing the country, they cannot watch what is happening in the country, the lack of conscious, the domination of corruption, the lies. But no aesthetic movement can become strong in the political sense.
Does it make any sense to encourage protests today or does this only mean sabotaging oneself?
This is a very difficult question. I have a feeling that at the current stage the supporters of political evolution, myself included, the agenda has come to an end. What we have been trying to do recently and what we have not managed to do is first and foremost because of the lack of perspective on part of the Russian government, was a way of peaceful transition for it. The government did not get this. Now it has rid itself of such an opportunity. Vladimir Putin has no other choice now. He will end badly in any case. This will be either a government coup or a social explosion. When the system refuses elections, it doesn’t give the people a choice.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina