Born in the USSR in 1961, the novelist and essayist Mikhail Chichkine, author, among others, of The Taking of Izmail (Fayard, 2003), from Ten to two And of the Martingale Coat (Black on White, 2012 and 2020), is one of the main figures of Russian intellectual dissidence. Settled in Switzerland since 1995, he has not returned to Russia since 2014.
In March 2013, your refusal to participate in the New York book fair as a member of the Russian delegation caused a great stir. What prompted you to break up?
In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a sense that Russia was moving closer to Europe. In reality, the regime was strengthening itself and only pretending to support “European values”. It is in this context that the state began to support Russian literature, as is done in developed democracies. So I was invited, among others, to take part in fairs. But I quickly realized that my name was instrumentalized. I remember we were told: “Criticize Russia as much as you want!” This will prove that we are in a democracy. I did not want to serve as a “human face” to the criminal regime. Hence my refusal. For the “patriots”, I immediately became a foreign agent and a traitor.
In the open letter that you published on this occasion, you wrote: “I am ashamed of what is happening in my country. » Where are you today with this shame?
All my life, I have felt solid ground under my feet: Russian culture. Since the invasion of Ukraine, there is nothing under my feet. Russia has become a country of assassins, my language has become the language of assassins. Can a Russia waging this infamous war be my country? I want to restore dignity to my language and my culture. This can only pass through the total defeat of the Putin regime and the total victory of Ukraine. And we must do everything in our power for that.
In “Peace or War”, you come back to the “white revolution” – the massive demonstrations that followed the Russian legislative elections of December 2011 – and its violent repression, which you make a key moment in the evolution of the diet…
That year, I spent time in Moscow. Hope was returning to Russia. It seemed that the time had come to finally take the last step towards a democratic society. To build a democracy, you need a critical mass of citizens who understand why the rule of law is necessary. During the “white revolution”, it seemed, at one point, that these hundreds of thousands of young people, who had come out with white ribbons to demonstrate peacefully in Moscow, were the citizens of this new democratic Russia. But, once again, it ended in defeat for us. A non-violent protest has no chance against the power of a dictatorial regime.
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