Voices from Russia

Thursday, 16 February 2012

An Interview with Fazil Iskander: “Illusions about Democracy have vanished without a Trace”

Author Fazil Iskander (1929- ), originally from Abkhazia, now resident in Russia

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Recently, writer Fazil Iskander received two awards for his works, the literary prize “Yasnaya Polyana” in the “modern classics” category and a Russian state decoration for his cultural work. However, this patriarch of domestic and world literature, who’ll celebrate his 83rd birthday in March, isn’t resting on his laurels, but he continues to write; moreover, he still speaks quite bluntly on our Russian reality. Today, he said, “Illusions about democracy have vanished without a trace”. What should we expect from him in future? On this, and on other questions, the author of Детства Чика (Detstva Chika: A Chick’s Childhood), the epic novel Сандро из Чегема (Sandro iz Chegema: Sandro from Chegem), and the story-parable Кролики и удавы (Kroliki i Udavy: Rabbits and boas), spoke to Argumenty i Fakty.

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“’Shame’ is Obscene”

Maksim Volodin

Fazil Abdulovich, you said, “Democracy robbed us of something… the dream of democracy”. The dream of communism dissipated even earlier. What should we strive for? An allegiance to a brighter capitalist future?

Fazil Iskander

We should try to see to it that there’s no war. All sorts of people in our country dream of a peaceful future and, indeed, demand it. Today, the class struggle morphed into a struggle for money. Therefore, it’s better, but the blatant injustice towards the poor is glaring and striking. We moved from a Declaration of Human Rights to an imitation of human rights. In the end, most people hope that we can transform our country into a social system with a human face somehow. However, what would we call it? Is that important?

Maksim Volodin

They say that you’re very worried today because the freedom that Russia won in ’91, which you yourself advocated as a member of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, brought us not only the liberation of society from totalitarianism, but also a disgrace of conscience and morality…

Fazil Iskander

Yes, that’s so. Contemporary life is full of disturbing paradoxes. Today, the word “shame” is obscene, offensive, or a profanity, along with it the words “selflessness” and “conscience”. People give the “fish-eye” to anyone who speaks them. They think, “What do I expect from him?” I’ve long thought… what’s the deal? Then, I realised, the focal point of our human lives is a striving for the absolute. The quest for the absolute, our conscience, aroused the masterpieces of Russian literature. A desire for absolute freedom coupled itself with great savagery in society. However, what remains to be done? We see that the whole country acts boorishly to one another. Internally, many decent people no longer resist. One member of the intelligentsia told me recently, “I’m tired of honesty. This doesn’t mean that I’d become dishonest, but I could become indifferent…”

Maksim Volodin

Maybe, subconsciously, we want to “free” ourselves of morality? All the more, since I reached the top?

Fazil Iskander

You know, that’s a secret human wish. Our conscience prevents us from living the way we want. We try to restrain it; after all, look at what others do. Few people are satisfied with such “brakes” on our behaviour. It turns out, rather than trust our free will, we follow “the maddening crowd”…

Maksim Volodin

Doe this mean that freedom, after all, is just evil?

Fazil Iskander

If it takes off the restraints of morality and allows lawlessness… of course. A freedom that protects the natural rights of mankind is good. How do we distinguish one from the other? This is the “to be or not to be” of Russia’s future. In the USSR, it was easier to be honest; in those days, evil had clearly-defined boundaries. If someone violated them against his conscience, at least, they were aware of what they were doing. The present evil is vague and poorly-defined; therefore, it’s much worse…

Soviet power drove the people into a pit, thereby unwittingly protecting them from the abyss. Now, nothing’s withheld from us, but we balance on the edge of a moral abyss. We see noisy rallies, but people remain silent because they don’t know what to make of it all… “to be or not to be”… shame or conscience”? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? In any case, here’s some advice… “If out of pessimism, you find cynicism, turn back …” The changes in our country aren’t over yet. In the West, freedom came a century before it came to Russia. They’ve learnt to curb its excesses. As for us… no.

Maksim Volodin

Nevertheless, some say that the price paid by ordinary people for freedom is disproportionately dear.

Fazil Iskander

One can’t begin to measure the price that they paid. However, still, it was necessary to free the country. Take yourself in hand, live in the present; in any case, a man must live an honest and full life. Here we are, nothing remains, yet, we obey this law. Of course, I‘d like it if everything were easier and more sensible, who wouldn’t want that? However, we’re stuck together in the Russia “that is”.

“’Non-Russianness’ didn’t Hinder Many People in Russia”

Maksim Volodin

Vakhtang Kikabidze explained why he refused the Order of Friendship awarded on his 70th birthday, after the Russian-Georgian conflict in 2008, which raged whilst he was on tour in Russia, by saying to Argumenty i Fakty, “Georgia, my motherland, is very dear to me. In the film Мимино (Mimino), one of the characters says, ‘A man must live in his homeland’”. What’s dearer to you… Russia or Abkhazia?

Fazil Iskander

I’ve never really given a thought about it. Although I sometimes ask myself, “Why did you choose to live in Moscow and not in your native Sukhumi?” What can I say to that? I’m a Russian writer. I write in Russian, but I sing of my Abkhazia. In Moscow, I don’t feel like an outsider. In fact, I didn’t “choose” my situation. Life chose it for me, even in my youth. I studied here; then, I worked here… for a very long time. Recently, my son Aleksandr asked me, “Dad, has the fact that you’re not Russian ever hurt you?” I thought about it, and I replied, “You know, Sasha… no, never!” That’s just not me, you see, “Non-Russianness” didn’t hinder many people in Russia. Only recently has it become a problem for some. However, this problem is alien to Russia’s essence. This means that everything will return to normal.

Maksim Volodin

The Georgians say about Abkhazia, “This is our internal affair! We’ll work it out; we’re neighbours, for the Abkhazians are next-door in the Caucasus, our close relatives. Even if we don’t climb together, we’re always one in mind with each other”. What do you think of that?

Fazil Iskander

Please, God, let that be so. If both sides would have a desire to make it possible, it’d do away with blood, war, and foreign interference. Can Abkhazians and Georgians live peacefully together in future? Why not? It depends on them. However, better still, I think it’d be best that they wouldn’t be in the same state, indeed, they’d be good neighbours. You must be able to forgive offences.

Maksim Volodin

What about the blood shed on both sides in the wars? Wouldn’t you need to forgive that too?

Fazil Iskander

Well, what do you suggest? Should we take revenge against each other? Then, what? That isn’t a solution; it’s a road to nowhere. Russia managed to avoid a civil war after the breakup of the Soviet Union… that’s a sign of its strength.

Maksim Volodin

To quote you, “Wisdom means that you come to terms with life, to go forth and cooperate with it”. What do you accept and what do you reject?

Fazil Iskander

I reject evil. I understand that evil is embedded in the human soul; so, we can’t cast it out from social life, we just can’t do it. Some evil will always remain. I, as I could, fought with it, but I never won complete victory. You can only contain evil; just try to do it yourself. At all times, society must develop in the direction of not tolerating darkness and chaos. Nevertheless, man’s always an unfinished project. He always thinks that if he just has a strong enough desire, he can take on anything and change it for the better. However, this is the business of many generations. We must have patience.

Maksim Volodin

Do you follow the same philosophy in your works?

Fazil Iskander

My books are another thing altogether. It’s necessary to spare people’s feelings, but we need to think ruthlessly. To write… it’s editing life so that one could live. That’s what I’m doing.

15 February 2012

Argumenty i Fakty

Quoted in Люди Peoples.ru (Lyudi Peoples.ru)

http://www.peoples.ru/art/literature/poetry/contemporary/iskander/interview2.html

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