Svetlana Aleksiyevich, writer. Minsk.
We came into the time of catastrophe of the great and horrible Utopia. The former sense disappears and the new one has not shown itself yet. And the life experience of everyone coincides with history. I am not a politician, I am a woman of letters though according to the traditions of the Russian culture, in which we grew up, the place of an artist is in the street, at the barricades, but this, as many other things, also is changing now. Professional revolutionaries are not needed, professionals - writers, economists, politicians, waiters - are in need. And the life nevertheless drags us into the streets...
There are a lot of new questions but there are no answers to them, the old ones are no good as they are intellectual traps. I can talk only about my own way.
We did not know a man, we hid him from ourselves, drew underground, giving too much trust to ideal. Now a man shown himself, there opened biological, existential darkness - and we panic: we do not like such a man, he frightens us. But this is our writing job - think things over till the end, and this is what I have been doing for twenty years already. I write the chronicle of the man of Utopia, of the Soviet idea, he did exist this Soviet man and he leaves, dissolves even in our own memories, though this is our time. Sometimes I think that I write or finish the history of people which are not going to exist any more. Together with them I walked over all "the stages of the great way" - war of 1941-1945, Afghanistan, crash of the empire and, finally, Chernobyl. Though we live now in different countries but we, as Dostoevsky wrote in the "The Podrostok", are people from the same craziness, we have the same structure, biochemistry of memory which does not go away immediately, over one generation. Not long ago we were too much romantic! We believed that the freedom is the quick holiday, that the freedom can be brought to us as the Finnish paper or Swiss chocolate. How grave was the discovery - nobody will free us from ourselves. We have around us what we have in our heads. Chaos and confusion. I would have said that we are people of the culture of struggle. Of the culture of barricades. We know how to destroy, smash, ruin, crash, refuse and curse, rant and rave but we are bored by construction, collection, saving, waiting, plain living. Barricade thinking is one of the main dangers of this intermediate time, barricade is not a place for living, a man is not seen from the barricade, just a target is seen. Walk our streets or ride a bus, come into a shop - your sixth sense will feel, will hear the movement, fluctuations of the hate magma, it is in the air which we breathe. Very unexpectedly for many they awoke one morning in the different country - and they do not know how to live in it, cannot live. Somehow we did not think that utopias corrupt. Corrupt with equality, seeming justice, identity; a man transfers trust to the state, to the idea his human work of good and evil, of a sense. He is not a man but an artificial person, nothing belongs to him, he does not even have a right for his own life, it can easily be demanded for the state, for the idea. I remember that in one of the Minsk papers there was published a letter of an excavator operator who was indignant which the fact that the writer (a world-known one!) Vassily Bykov sits at a table, moves a pen over a piece of paper and gets more money than he - a worker in overalls. Besides, this writer tells something independent, incomprehensible, unnecessary for this worker. I remember a slogan at one of the public meetings: "Away With The People!". A writer must not hate, our world is dangerous enough. But what words, what ideas is it necessary to find now to be heard, so that there was more hope and good deeds in the world? I do not know. May be that is why our place on stadiums and TV screens is taken by generals and psychiatrists and we again profess in kitchens, we do not even profess, we whine or accept our confusion. Shall we call people to the streets? But what shall we look for in the crowd, in the street at the end of the 20th century!? You will find nothing there but for the bloody and merciless revolt.
If a stranger today comes to Belarus he or she, and I heard it more than once, catches himself on a thought that he or she returns twenty years into the past as if on a time machine. Here the Soviet times are canned. And I think that when Belarusians vote for the union with Russia they vote for that time, they want to unite with the past, with the life that was understandable to them. Frightful, bloody world, but already rendered habitable, their world in which they lived with the feeling of the big country and big idea. It is uncomfortable to live in a small and poor country, they need the other one - with missiles and labour camps, which was feared by the whole world. Thes is the melancholy of the small man. Nobody tries to forecast what will form out of it, what will break loose from it.
Speaking about Russia, at which with hope (and that is strange) look both the authorities and our timid democracy, it is again at the crossroads between the East and the West. Where are its borders? What now is being called Russia is not the Russian border, this is the border of the Russian idea. Belarusians is the nation that is late, at the end of the century we try to solve the problems that should have been solved at the beginning of the century. We live in the centre of Europe and still are looking for ourselves: who we are? With whom should we be? Our historical time, our historic chance disappear. There is a hope for the new generation that in Universities and institutes started to speak Belarusian, started to speak of the national idea. It is their form of confrontation against the government and the situation we have now. But this generation is a hostage of the past, and this past - their parents, old textbooks and old lecturers, old ideas and the government based upon them. They are alone in front of these issues. And we have nothing to tell them.
The arts do not guess a lot in a man. Today, living in the country that went rapidly back (and this happens after we believed into the irreversibility of changes that started ten years ago, into our revival), I started to think more often: what do we know about ourselves? Why the old mechanisms of fear and power worked immediately? We have experience of suffering, even the suffering cult. What our arts is about? About victims and heroes. But we do not know the experience of executioners, it was hidden from us. Both the system and executioners themselves. That is why it cannot be recognised, we do not have a vaccine against it, in our old and new history it is always unpunished and unmentioned. That is why it appears and triumphs when its time returns. It did return. What professors or writers, philosophers can teach us? And we live in the frightening time, everyone feels himself just a victim.
I am from Belarus, which became a giant Chernobyl laboratory. Whatever happens to us, Chernobyl is the main thing that happened to us, we became people-black boxes that record information about the new knowledge, still unknown to mankind. Chernobyl is the mystery that comes over to the next millennium. But there coincided two catastrophes: the social (the socialist continent went under water) and the cosmic - Chernobyl. The first one is nearer to a man and more understandable, we speak about it but live under the dome of Chernobyl, which changed the world around us but did not change us. Perhaps, in plase of history, we will leave behind us just Chernobyl?