With 26 minorities, Ukraine is already cosmopolitan

We are talking about the deeper people's soul in Ukraine, about the importance of literature, about pluralism and the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians. Ny Tid met the country's famous author Andrej Kurkov.


The Ukrainian author Andrei Kurkov wrote intensely about the revolution on Maidan Square almost three years ago – the so-called diaries. Now, with the events a bit at a distance, we ask him about the current situation in Ukraine, where New Time meets him at home in Kiev for a conversation. "All revolutions are gradually commercialized when the violence subsides," says Kurkov. "During the Orange Revolution, you got a discount on orange scarves and clothes in the shops, and today you can buy all kinds of emblems from the volunteer battalion in Donbass. This did not exist during the October Revolution of 1917. "

Kurkov has stated that he grew five years older in the three months, winter three years ago. "I slept little and poorly. I used to wake up at night to check the headlines. And to check if the car was still in the yard, or whether it was burnt or stolen. This constant restless sleep makes one nervous. You lose energy. ”

We start the conversation by talking about which Ukrainians fought and how. "We have idealistic Ukrainian nationalists. Also, radical patriots with violent solutions. And a number that would certainly have no violence, ”he says. “I think most people are against the violence. It was unnecessary and provocative. The politicians who asked unarmed people to go to a very well-guarded parliament and try to get into the building, did not go themselves. These were neither injured nor arrested. When people stand still waiting for change, it can be easy to get them to act specifically. "

Soviet Union. A story that suggests Kurkov's mentality as a writer and observer is worth mentioning: In 1967, when Kurkov was six years old, the family moved to an apartment in Kiev across from the airport where his father worked. Little Andrej got three hamsters to play with because he was so much alone at home. They ran free, so one day his father killed one of them by accident. Tired on behalf of the animals, the boy brought a hungry cat from the street to feed it. But it suddenly ate the next hamster. Then the last lonely hamster fell off the balcony and died. "I don't know if it was a suicide or accident. After that, I was sure people only wrote poetry when they were upset, or that poetry should always be sad. ”

Little Andrej probably learned a little about life at that time through the animals – but did he move from literature to the more political? “My brother was a dissident who brought home banned literature. He and his friends locked themselves in the kitchen, drank port wine and left political jokes. He then gave me a book about literary absurdism, so since then, black humor has been a part of my books. As a teenager, I learned Polish and became acquainted with French, English and American literature through this language. Søren Kierkegaard, Carl Jung, Otto Weininger and Knut Hamsun were all thinkers who influenced me. The latter was surprisingly published and well-liked in the Soviet Union – surprisingly, his biography taken into account. ”

kiev3_dsc4986 Kurkov's first novel was published two weeks before the fall of the Soviet Union. During the following social and political turmoil, he took his first steps toward self-publishing and distribution of books. He borrowed money from friends and published about 75 issues on his own, which he lined up in the streets to sell, as well as organizing distribution of them around Ukraine. According to him, he must have been rejected 000 times before he was finally accepted by a publisher. In the meantime, he had almost written eight complete novels. Kurkov is now hailed as one of the most successful Russian-language writers of the time after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"If you own a small store in Ukraine, the police can come in and take whatever they want without paying."

I ask Kurkov what made him write a whole 18 novels. What deeper meaning has this given? “I wrote because I had questions I was trying to answer through my novels. The answers could also benefit my readers. For example, I wrote five novels about the Soviet mentality. I tried to describe how people thought and felt in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Besides, what happened to Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Union. "

Russian or Ukrainian? We continue the discussion by talking about today's mentality: “Yes, it is more about different mentality than ethnic inequality. Here it is not just ethnic Russians or Ukrainians, but also millions of ethnic Ukrainians with a Russian mentality, ”says Kurkov, elaborating:

“You could say that the Russian mentality is based on the monarchy. Russia loved its tsar, and was willing to be controlled by one person, by one political party. If they were very dissatisfied, they could kill the sitting czar, but they would still have embraced the new one, ”he says.

«Ukrainian mentality, on the other hand, is more individualistic. Ukrainians are as open as Russians, but they are not as collective. It is not easy to gather them under one roof, under one party, which is why we have 200 political parties in Ukraine. Therefore, it is also impossible to employ a dictator who would receive support and respect in all the different regions. In Ukraine, 10 out of 42-44 million inhabitants are ethnic Russians. Some of them live on the border – they support Russia and Putin even though they live in Ukraine. The Russians living in Kiev and Odessa share the Ukrainian mentality. They are pro-Europe. They do not want monarchy, but rather a vibrant country – rather than the cold and stagnant politics found in Russia. ”

I ask Kurkov how tantalizing the Russian really is. "70 percent of Ukrainians in Kiev speak Russian," he replies. "The only official language is Ukrainian. But 90 percent of the books sold are Russian, and 90 percent of the newspapers are in Russian. And 70 percent of Ukrainian television programs are Russian. So who is being abused here? "

What does it mean to be pro-Russian? "Being pro-Russian in Ukraine is tantamount to wanting Ukraine to become part of the Russian Empire, because that's what the Russian Kremlin wants. They want Ukraine to become like Belarus. You know the situation there, with Lukashenko. There is no border between countries. Russia has also decided to establish military bases in Belarus. "

Are political parties working for this? "We have no pro-Russian parties left. The last, the Communists, was excluded after the second Euromaidan. Parties representing Eastern Ukrainian interests have always had strong ties to and controlled by Russia. But that does not mean that they will give part of the country to Russia. Politicians who have wanted this have always been a minority, and people who support this passively may amount to only 2-3 million – that is, people who prefer a Russian rule over a Ukrainian. ”

kiev3_dsc4981The intellectuals. Kurkov himself was born in Leningrad, Russia, but grew up in Ukraine and considers himself a Ukrainian. His English wife comes in with their seemingly well-educated son to say hello. I suppose an intellectual like Andrei Kurkov is more of a cosmopolitan than he is a nationalist. "Speaking of ethnicity, my family is from Russia. My father's family comes from the North Caucasus, and my mother's family comes from the Leningrad region of northern Russia. My great-grandfather was an Orthodox priest there. My paternal grandfather was a Stalinist. ”

In our time of much-emergent nationalist mythology, Ukraine may look different: “The intellectual environment has always been strong here. Ukrainian nationalism, on the other hand, has never stood strong. So nationalists, no. We have 26 large minorities, so we are already a cosmopolitan country. I recently traveled to the Odessa region, where I run a minority youth project that wants to learn how to write. In that region you will find Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek and Russian villages. You cannot build a homogeneous society in Ukraine with so many languages ​​and nationalities. And that's how it will continue. "

But have the intellectuals – writing, deeper socially engaged people – any significance whatsoever for the change of Ukraine at present – are they read or heard? According to Kurkov, there are maybe 15 of them: “We don't have intellectuals who are listened to by the man and the woman on the street. We have cult figures like the poet Serhji Zjadan (see New Time No. 1 2016), who was born in Lugansk. Several times a month he went to the front line and read poems, talked to people and published books about the situation in Donbass. He is followed by maybe 20 percent of the population. "

"Surprisingly, Hamsun was published and similar in the Soviet Union, his biography taken into account."

When it comes to the desire for a western turn – is it not then all about material economic changes? I ask Kurkov. "For Ukrainians, 'Europe' does not mean the same as the EU, it means a civilized society with equality, justice and without corruption. This is what is expected of new Ukrainian governments. "

What values ​​really drive the Ukrainians? Kurkov explains: "Ukrainians love freedom – they need respect from the authorities, and that Ukraine is respected internationally. But people have not received respect from the authorities. If you own a small shop in Ukraine, the police can come in and take what they want without paying – and you can't do anything about it. The same goes for properties. Here the authorities change documents and sell your property! You can fight your whole life to get it back, but have no guarantee that it will actually happen. This is the situation for ordinary people in Ukraine. Nor do they respect local authorities that represent the system. That is what made people so angry – and here the protests gained popular support when the second Euromaidan started. It was not about President Yanukovych, but about having been treated disrespectfully in Ukraine for the past 25 years. ”

I try to drill deeper into the theme of freedom and respect. It seems there is something anarchic about his countrymen? “Of course, ordinary Ukrainians have different ideas about culture. But our Ukrainian mentality is rooted in the desire to be independent and self-driven. We are a nation of agriculture and small scale businesses. That's what people want. If you travel to Lviv, for example, you will be able to find 20 different companies in one house where everyone does different things – such as in Turkey. People want to be independent, they don't want any boss over them. "

The books. I go back to writing, to freedom of speech. Why did Kurkov write the Ukrainian diaries under Maidan? "I traveled around Ukraine talking to people, and every night I sent a new text to my translators in Berlin and Paris," he says. Diaries are something he has been doing for a long time: "Yes, since I was 15. I like oral literature, I've been writing poetry since I was six. At one point I started writing down my thoughts in diaries. My first diary starts with me, as a 15-year-old, kissing a girl for the first time. ” His mother found it, and entered admonitions with red ink. He had to keep the diaries secret then.

Obviously, many are provoked by the things Kurkov writes. "Did you know that my novel The President's last love is banned in Russia? My books haven't been sold in Russia since 2008. The Russians obviously think it's okay to ban them. But I write literature, not recipe books for how to destroy their neighboring countries – as Aleksandr Dugin does. All these book bans are just a gesture – it has no effect. You can download the books on the internet, from perfectly legal websites. That goes for Dugin's books, too. The TV series that were created and banned can also be found on the internet. Culture and information are universal, you can't ban it. ”

I note that the Ukrainians forbade the filmmaker Mikhail Porechenkov to enter the country. "Yes, but he took a machine gun and was filmed firing on Ukrainian forces in Donetsk," Kurkov points out. "Would you welcome him here?" On the Russian list, there are more than 40 Ukrainian citizens who are not allowed to cross the border into Russia. "

I end the conversation by asking how he envisions the future of Ukraine. Kurkov replies: "Firstly, I hope that Ukraine will have close ties with modern Turkey, the Baltic countries and Europe. After all, the East-West line was not a line of conflict in the past, and now Ukraine has to restore cooperation from Lithuania and against Turkey. ”


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