From the Queen, we turn to another long-serving ruler — Vladimir Putin, whose brooding presence seems to overshadow the whole evening. Alexievich’s magnum opus Second-Hand Time (first published in Russian in 2013), is an attempt to understand where Putin came from and why he has such a hold on the Russian people.
Alexievich is reluctant to demonise the president. What worries her more is the “collective Putin”, the deep sense of wounded national pride and contempt for liberal values that now runs so deep in both Russia and Belarus. She says 60 to 70 per cent of the population hold such views — and that is a challenge for the beleaguered minority of pro-western liberals to which she belongs. “To be in conflict with the authorities is one thing. We Russian writers have got used to that,” she says. “But to be in conflict with your own people — that is truly terrible.”
In her Nobel lecture of December 2015, Alexievich described Russia as “a space of total amnesia”. The way she puts it, things now are getting even worse. “Lawmakers say we should put Gorbachev on trial, a Solzhenitsyn monument has been vandalised, and they’re putting up more and more statues to Stalin,” she says. “But it’s not Putin telling people to do that — the initiative is coming from the grassroots.”
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