“Peace or war”: Mikhail Shishkin shatters the Russian lie

A green ribbon, a sign of the anti-war movement, on a bridge in Moscow, June 19, 2022.

“Peace or war. Reflections on the “Russian world”” (Frieden oder Krieg), by Mikhaïl Chichkine, translated from German by Odile Demange, Black on white, 206 p., €21.50, digital €16.

Nothing seems joyful like the cover of this dark, arguably most desperate book by the great Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin. A little boy, a beaming smile on his lips, plays the accordion disguised as a soldier of the Red Army. In his buttonhole, the Saint-Georges ribbon, which became the emblem of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. One can imagine around him a paved street, the jubilation that everywhere accompanies the return of peace and rediscovered freedom, except that everything is false, of a multiple falsity, cascading.

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He is not a post-war child: the photograph was taken today, at the time of Vladimir Putin’s memorial lies. And what happened at the end of the Great Patriotic War, as they say in Russia? Where was the joy, where was the freedom, for a people imprisoned and massacred by their masters before being killed by the enemy, and who would again suffer oppression, despite courage, despite victory? Rarely has a cover expressed the reality of a book to such an extent. peace or war, a collection of essays on the present, the past and the future, or the absence of a future, of Russia, seems to be born entirely from the melancholy which, in the end, takes away this child’s face. He intensifies it. He makes her explosive.

Centuries of accepting the lie

“The best of terms, the most beautifulwrites Mikhail Shishkin, lose their meaning in front of a Russian decor. » The decor must be shattered. Russia must burn, he insists, and with it centuries of lies and acceptance of lies, of abasement in the face of lies. In the ruins, perhaps, another Russia, buried, an old momentum broken by the empire, by communism, by their double heir Putin, will awaken, and this is the full force of this great book of anger, to keep open the possibility, or the dream, of a rebirth.

There was no Nuremberg of Soviet totalitarianism, no purge among the executioners, recalls Mikhail Shishkin

This other Russia, Mikhaïl Chichkine knew it. In August 1991, while putschists were trying to restore Soviet order in the dying USSR – it would disappear in December – he was in the crowd gathered in Moscow to defend perestroika. Three young people die under the bullets. But the putsch fails and the hope that the terror will be over forever becomes all-powerful. “We were convincedhe writes, that it was the last blood that would flow in our country. Unfortunately, this was only the first blood of the new Russia. »

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