Russia is taking refuge in ideas from its Soviet past, but this nostalgia collides with newer, darker forces, according to Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexievich.
In an interview with The Associated Press at the Hay Festival of literature, the 68-year-old Alexievich assessed what she has learned from decades of talking with the ordinary people of the Soviet Union and the countries that emerged after its 1991 collapse.
Alexievich books are full of compelling voices that shout angrily, drone in despair and occasionally exult. Alexievich edits her interviews rigorously and crafts their disparate voices into a compelling vision of the human condition. Her polyphonic reporting on what she calls “Red Civilization” won the 2015 literature prize in something of a departure for the Nobel committee, which usually honors poetry or fiction.
Her latest work, “Second-Hand Time,” recently published in English, describes the years since the Soviet collapse. What emerges from the voices across the post-Soviet world is bitter disappointment in wasted opportunities and broken promises.
“What could they turn to, these common people who do not think in terms of strategy as politicians do? What could they recollect? Only their past, they had nothing else,” said Alexievich.
“In the West, people demonize Putin,” she told The New York Times. “They do not understand that there is a collective Putin, consisting of some millions of people who do not want to be humiliated by the West, ” she added. “There is a little piece of Putin in everyone.”
Soviet socialism valued ideas over human life, and accordingly ended with a river of blood and a mountain of dead bodies, Minsk-born Valzhyna Mort writes for The Times:
That kind of past can’t be wiped away; it is much harder to replace ideas with people than people with ideas. Alexievich’s main subject is a Homo Sovieticus who is cursed to live always looking backward, to see his past as his future, one in which he is at once his own victim and his own executioner
The National Endowment for Democracy and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty invite you to join a special event with 2015 Nobel Laureate for Literature Svetlana Alexievich in conversation with Leon Wieseltier, Contributing Editor, The Atlantic; Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy, Brookings Institution.