Russia’s most famous contemporary novelist Vladimir Sorokin gave an interview with Der Spiegel today, calling out the current Russian administration for backsliding freedoms, authoritarianism, and the troubling indifference and confusion on behalf of the west. “Only in the last 15 years have the Russians managed to dress up and eat their fill. However, people with full bellies tend become drowsy. This explains, for example, the disinterest among students. In no other country are they as apathetic as they are here.” Excerpts from Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR VLADIMIR SOROKIN “Russia Is Slipping Back into an Authoritarian Empire” Russian author Vladimir Sorokin disscusses waning freedom of opinion in his country, the lack of opposition against President Vladimir Putin and dangerous Western ambivalence that is enabling the Kremlin’s growing authoritarian tendencies to take root. … Sorokin: Germans, Frenchmen and Englishmen can say of themselves: “I am the state.” I cannot say that. In Russia only the people in the Kremlin can say that. All other citizens are nothing more than human material with which they can do all kinds of things. SPIEGEL: In old Russian, the word “oprichnik” means “a special one.” Do you feel that the divide between the top and the bottom in Russia today can no longer be bridged? Sorokin: In our country there are special people who are permitted to do anything. They are the sacrificial priests of power. Anyone who is not a member of this group has no clout with the state. One can be as pure as can be — just as magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was — and still lose everything in a flash and end up in prison. The Khodorkovsky case is typical of the “oprichnina” — the system of oppression I describe. SPIEGEL: Does a character like Khodorkovsky appear in your book? Sorokin: Such a parallel didn’t occur to me. However, my book does begin with an attack on a rich man. This is almost a daily occurrence nowadays. It has always been that way in Russia. Only those who are loyal to the people in power can become wealthy. … SPIEGEL: Criminal proceedings were launched against you five years ago for supposedly pornographic passages in your novel “Blue Bacon Fat.” Is censorship about to be reintroduced in Russia? Sorokin: What happened at the time was an attempt to test writers’ steadfastness and the public’s willingness to accept open censorship. It didn’t work. SPIEGEL: Did the pressure that was applied to you intimidate other writers? Sorokin: Certainly. I have Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to thank that a Russian writer can not only write anything he wants today, but also publish it. I don’t know what will happen in the future. The media — television, newspapers and magazines — are already controlled by the state today. … SPIEGEL: How should German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, behave in dealing with the Russian government? Sorokin: The West should be even more vocal in insisting that the Russians respect human rights. All compromise aside, I ask myself whether Russia is moving in the direction of democracy. I don’t believe it is! Bit by bit, Russia is slipping back into an authoritarian empire. The worst thing that can happen to us is indifference in the West — that is, if it were interested in nothing but oil and gas. I am always surprised when I watch the weather report on German television. First they show the map of Europe and then the camera moves to the right. Then comes Kiev, then Moscow and then everything stops. This seems to be the West’s view of us — of a wild Russia that begins past Moscow, a place one prefers not to see. This is a big mistake. The West must pay closer attention. SPIEGEL: Does the West understand Russia? Sorokin: Yes and no. In Russia no one is surprised when an official accepts a bribe while at the same time portraying the state as some sacred entity to which the bourgeois should pay homage. This all sounds absurd to you. But for Russians it is completely normal.