Interviewed by Anna Berseneva, writer
However, one should not be surprised. We live in a real - all too real - social situation, and an artist, if he is really an artist, will not pretend that the circumstances of place and time can be ignored. In the same way, exactly how the artist cannot fail to be conscious: through human relations, and through historical events, and through social mechanisms, what is called metaphysics manifests itself. Isn't that why, for example, in Mandelstam's poems there is a place for the Kremlin highlander, and for the millions killed cheaply, and for the light of the ground into a beam of speeds? The artist captures everything. And it happens that reality responds to his words.
- In all your books Belarus is present - as one of the places where the action takes place, or as an image of the lost harmony. Why?
- The simplest answer: I was born in Belarus, I spent my childhood in a village near Gomel. And although I have been living in Moscow for almost thirty years, there is not a single moment of life that is not filled with love for the place on earth where I was born. My soul was molded by the world of childhood. Like the God of his Adam. There is not a single night when I would not fly there in my dreams, all my smiles running down my face unconsciously - from the memories of that world. Now I will say very strange words: I am sure that my last memory will be some kind of vision from my childhood. Probably, it should be so - into this world we appear from the same curtain, and behind it we leave.
- But in the new novel "She" (the stress on the first syllable is the way the hero calls his soul) there is no harmony and is close. Although the main character again, as it happened in previous books, returns to the Belarusian village of Kholochye, where he spent his childhood. This village was evicted after Chernobyl, houses were destroyed and buried. What are the circumstances of his return this time?
- With despair. With the boundless despair of a man whose freedom was taken away. He was not an indifferent observer, did not expect that freedom would be brought to him on a silver platter. Participated in Moscow rallies, in the protest movement. But seeing how great the acceptance of evil in society, some kind of animal indifference, the absence of citizens in the number necessary for society to become civil, fell into this very despair. “Man should not get used to the history of mankind. How to get used to the twentieth century, which was not in biblical times, not in the Middle Ages, but just at arm's length? How is it possible to live after the destruction of people by people because of the deceitful rules that the killers themselves set? And to live where these rules, showing the whole world how it is impossible to live, have appeared?", - he thinks. In addition, he is detained at a rally, then the notorious "fighters against extremism" come home and threaten to plant drugs. Run. Before it's too late to run. But where? And the hero decides: to the place where he was born, let that paradise become the Chernobyl desert. He is sure that God is there. He also thinks that God is in destroyed churches, and not in modern remakes, that God is behind the barbed wire of the Stalinist camp, which he once stumbled upon while on a geological expedition on the Yenisei, God is in the furnaces and gas chambers of Auschwitz... God was killed in the twentieth century and continue to kill today. The illusion of the possibility of escape, like other illusions, will collapse for him too. But in the novel “She,” I, without realizing it right away, put some strange strong thought: the weak must win. These moral monsters, who have reigned in both Belarus and Russia, cannot be changed. They even developed clever tactics of completely ignoring any revelations made by journalists and investigators. Like, the dogs bark - the caravan is on its way. This is their "fenya". But they have already been defeated just because they are the devil. Time is not one-day, is it? We will meet them after death, my hero thinks, then the main trial will take place over them.
- This is your first book, which was first published not on paper, but in electronic form. It is clear that the pandemic has made adjustments to publishing plans. But still, the fact that the text was published as quickly as possible is only a technical circumstance?
- I was in a hurry to publish this book just in those days when I felt that the world was changing before our eyes. I understood that this was happening, and hoped with my book drop to upset the balance.
- Yes, the understanding turned out to be prophetic: less than a month after the publication of the novel "She", and events in Belarus are already developing rapidly - election fraud, people take to the streets, and those who beat them with bestial cruelty are shouting in the face "punishers, fascists!"...
- These are modern policemen, of course. Descendants of those who were in the war. Inhumans, as they were called then. So they are now, these kains with clubs. Such people were burned alive in our village in a village club. Even not the Germans did it, but their fellow countrymen. How can you understand this? At last year's rallies in Moscow, I passed long, endless ranks of these, so to speak, people. Who are they? What's in their heads? For money, beat and kill if there is an order? They are quite ready for this too. Now we are convinced of this in Minsk, in other Belarusian cities. And most importantly, for what? For the complacency of the rulers. After all, those are so wretched that they think this life is their happiness, pleasure... Money, power. And that the head and soul are empty, they do not care. Not far from our dacha, in a forest near Moscow, they cut down several hectares, arranged something like a fabulous Russia. This is not the only such place. They come there in limousines, and there is the original Russia. Troika, hunting, fur-crowns. And they pray, of course. I would like to ask a simple question, to which hardly any of them will answer: with what will you appear before God, you brute? Why do you need money, Kisa, you have no imagination, as Ostap Bender said. Fantasy is enough only for theft and batons for the guardsmen. Living life, culture, cinema, television have been destroyed, and they just have to get knuckles on their accounts. But the “masters of life”, oddly enough, are clear to me. Just moral freaks, bandits - what to take from them? But these, who grew up next to us, played in the same sand, dived into the same river upside down - why did they become policemen? There are many policemen. There are many people who are ready for a miserable life on their knees - they are not going to get up. Although there are still more of ours. We will win!
- In your previous novel "Holochye" there are stories about how, during the Great Patriotic War, ordinary inhabitants did not just go to the police under the occupiers, submitting to irresistible circumstances and experiencing a personal tragedy, but tortured, hung and burned their fellow villagers in full confidence that they are doing the right thing, because they are following orders from their superiors. In Belarus, this is not quite a story, people remember it.
- Yes, and in the new novel "She" there is a non-fictional story about how an elderly man came to our village for vacation from the city: “Everyone knew that under Stalin he worked as an executioner — all his life. I thought I’d go crazy because I realized that people respect him. More than all my neighbors - teachers, carpenters, shepherds, blacksmiths and builders, you never know decent people. He was treated with some kind of special respect, with aspiration, with respect-admiration-fear. He was taller in an unknown scary status that made everyone feel inferior in comparison to him. Something in me broke down then in relation to people".
- But how, where is evil lurking inside an ordinary person? And does it live in any person? "The banality of evil" is an eternal theme of philosophy and art. It is clear that this is not a local phenomenon. But what is your personal answer: why does evil suddenly shoot out such a terrible prominence here and now - in Belarus, in Russia?
- No, evil does not live in every person. A person is either bad or good, that's the point. There is no struggle for his soul - the soul either exists or not. I don’t want to reeducate Lukashenka, Putin, I don’t want to argue with them. They are on the other side of the curtain. In this sense, I am even grateful to people like them: they help define other people. How people treat them, so are they themselves. No, no, if a person is deceitful, and deceitful on such a scale, then he is an absolute evil. And if it is his fault that blood is shed, then it is simply a criminal. Sinful criminal. How do they not understand this, waving their arms crosswise near the icons?
- I will not retell the content of the novel, but when reading, it is really impossible not to understand that the actions of his hero are imbued with despair. He is not an old man, but he has the hard experience of breaking many illusions. "Evil overwhelmed me. It was so great that I was sure that it could only be abandoned so that it would dry up without people, like a seaweed thrown out by a storm. But it comes to life like the same seaweed, picked up by the same people and thrown into the same life-giving water. How can I answer this? With renunciation. Returning to where I was once happy, to that Garden of Eden, which has become a desert", - the hero says to himself. However, paradoxically, it turns out that his despair contains some kind of strong impulse. What is this impulse?
- In my epilogue. I'm not afraid of the spoiler, because it's not about the plot at all. In front of me on the table lies an ordinary stone, which I once raised at the foot of Mount Moses. It was as if someone had painted the Burning Bush on it. Or the Big Bang? And I thought that nature itself, even before the tablets, even before the scrolls and books, had sent in its own language the first test covenant on the preservation and continuation of life. We think about it all the time. And thoughts are angels, and they tirelessly cleanse our ether, polluted by lies. See that all are rewarded according to their deeds.
SOTNIKOV VLADIMIR MIKHAILOVICH - writer, screenwriter. Born in Belarus, in a family of rural teachers. Graduated from the Literary Institute. A.M. Gorky, creative seminar led by Vladimir Makanin.
Short stories, novels and novels were published in the magazines Yunost, Oktyabr, Znamya, Continent, Yasnaya Polyana.
The author of numerous children's adventure stories and prose for adults - the novels "The Cover", "Spilled Water", "Emma's Smile", "Holochye", stories and short stories.
Screenwriter of the film based on the novel by A. Bitov "The Flying Monks". Writer of scripts for television series.
Laureate of the Bunin Prize "For the philosophical capacity of artistic images".
Member of the International PEN-Club.
Lives in Moscow.