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Direct speech

Tamara Eidelman: "In Berlin, a guy came on stage and said: "I am from Mariupol. I want to make an act of reconciliation with you"

Tamara Nathanovna Eidelman, honoured teacher and foreign agent of the Russian Federation, talked to Victoria Hoogland about her European speeches, the difficulties of emigration and whether the West can be blamed for double standards.

I was just standing in the foyer and heard "There's so much going on at Eidelman's lectures." Tamara Natanovna, what is going on there?

Lots of people ask all kinds of questions, and I feel a bit like Chlestakov. People come in and ask things like: "What is the meaning of life? I have to conform and answer somehow, but it's terribly embarrassing for me.

There are a lot of Ukrainians and Belarusians at lectures, who say wonderful words that thank me.... And sometimes I hear things I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

Can you elaborate on that?

In Israel, a woman came up to me who said "I am from Kherson. Your lectures helped me overcome my hatred of all Russians".

At the lecture, I talk about Denis Karagodin. He in Tomsk had obtained the case file of his great-grandfather who had been executed and the names of the executioners. There was a woman who found out her grandfather's name; she wrote to him - and they concluded the Act of Civil Agreement and Reconciliation.

And, Vika, can you imagine, in Berlin a guy came out and said: "I am from Mariupol. I want to make an Act of Reconciliation with you". He and I hugged each other, it was... I find it hard even to tell. I think it became one of the main events in my life.


We mustn’t forget difficult events, we should live through them, work through them - the whole nation as well as an individual. Although people of the generation which took part in those events often say: let's forget, how long can we remember it, it's time to start a new life.

From the lecture "Judgment of History".

Why "The Judgement of History"?

The full title of the lecture is "Judgment of History, Judgment of Man, Judgment of Conscience".

We live at a critical juncture and are constantly judging ourselves, others, countries, and nations. Sometimes this takes an utterly horrific form. So to talk about ancient times, in the Middle Ages, in the 20th century, today, who judged who, who was considered guilty, who was considered fit to judge, how to judge is incredibly important. And judging by the full houses we gather in every city, it seems it isn’t only me who thinks like this.

It sounds like a social educational mission with the refreshing effect of psychotherapy.

I see it first of all as a historical theme, which is very interesting to me. But so many people have already told me how it supports and helps them, so it turns out you're right.

By the way, offtopic. These accusations, white coats and so on - has it always been like this? Was white emigration measured by social media sainthood too?

The emigrants were constantly making accusations against each other. Who collaborated with the Bolsheviks and who didn't, who said or did what. Everybody blamed everybody. It's like now, only without Facebook.

Still, why is this topic so important?

You know, many years ago I was in the Netherlands at the founding conference of EuroClio, the European Association of History Teachers. I really remember a speech by a Dutch historian, where he talked about the Holocaust in the Netherlands and the responsibility of the Dutch.

I was surprised. Holland is a country where many people saved Jews in spite of great risks. There are 5,595 people in little Holland who have been awarded the incredibly honourable title of Righteous among the Nations! (The title of Righteous among the Nations is given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Nazi occupation of Europe - ed). Their number is greater only in Poland, where there are about seven thousand. In Russia, for example, there are 215 people, and in Norway, there are sixty-seven.

After the lecture, I went up to the speaker, and told him cautiously that I thought the Dutch had nothing to be ashamed of. He answered: "The trains used to take Jews to concentration camps were driven by Dutch train drivers."

So it is like this. Some people admire the righteous people of the world, some feel guilty because of the informers who killed Anne Frank. Or because of the machinists, seemingly innocent, for they were following orders. Or the guilty ones, after all? Then what?


Who is responsible for the atrocities of the Nazi, Soviet and any other regime? The executioners themselves or the propagandists? Or those who kept silent and did not resist? Or maybe the existence of collective responsibility in general is a relic of medieval perceptions of the world? History often exonerates different characters - even those usually regarded as villains. But sometimes the judgement of history is incredibly ruthless. And the more the judges care about what happened, the harder it is to be objective and the more brutal the verdict turns out to be.

From the lecture "Judgment of History".


We talked to you about your emigration six months ago. You were talking about how difficult it is to look at what is going on while in another country.

I am still supported by my work, supported by communication. I have to admit that living in Portugal has had a good effect on me. Naturally, I am very sad, naturally it is hard, but this country is so friendly (which, by the way, is rare not only in Russia, but also in the West) that one cannot lose heart at all here.

I still look at Russia with love anyway. My friends live there, my relatives live there; I know many wonderful people there, for whom I care a lot.

I am in touch with them all the time.

At the same time, I feel a gap, or more precisely, a difference between my life now and theirs. It turns out that because of this constant contact, I don't feel completely "gone.”

Maybe BG was right when he said that the very concept of emigration and borders is outdated.

I understand what he's talking about. I endlessly get asked the same question "what time can our era be compared to...". And I always answer - none. Mobile phones, the internet, nuclear weapons...

Everything is different and so is emigration, today you can always talk to those who have stayed at home. But whatever connections you have, you still find yourself in a completely unfamiliar environment, you have to get used to the new conditions, live among new people. It's not easy.

Artemy Lebedev recently asked a rhetorical question in one of his interviews: show me, they say, the success stories of emigrants. To be able to see that it's great for them there (this is a direct quote).

Oh, don't even start. What do you mean, cool? That they have a lot of money? There are plenty of examples - take Sikorsky, Nureyev, Breen, don't forget. Let's talk about Rachmaninov, Nabokov. Stravinsky.

Oh, are we talking about the ones who left recently?

I don't understand what kind of moral deafness you must have to even imagine that those who left because of war, terror, threats of arrest or mobilization could ever be "cool.”

To put it bluntly, forced emigration is not cool. There's nostalgia, worrying about the war and what's happening in your homeland.

Dante said: "Bitter is the bread of exile", and then he wrote The Divine Comedy.

Further, the great-grandfather of the esteemed Artemy Lebedev, Alexei Tolstoy, wrote in exile perhaps his most human book, Nikita's Childhood. A beautiful light novel. And then came back and turned into a gluttonous singer of Stalinism, a "red count", a personal confidant of "father of nations and friend of children". And he obviously had a great time.

Forgive me for the awful cliché, but I cannot help asking - do you still believe in European values?

You know, I have a very big question about what it is. When people who escape mobilization are sent back, condemning them to prison or the army, to me it is a complete contradiction to European values.

When they elect extreme right-wing nationalists who are stirring up migrant-phobia, it is a contradiction to European values.

I am not even talking about the fact that when there is a war, all of Europe keeps buying gas and finances the war by denying visas to Russians who oppose what is happening in their homeland.

What is happening now is a crisis of humanist values in general. All over the world.

But I still believe in the existence of humanist values - they have a lot to do with the development of Europe. Lets not forget that Russia is not only Putin's country, but also the country of many people who have developed and kept faith in the human being and in the value of each life.


When the war is over, the regime will change, the "happy Russia of the future" will come. And I am very worried that there will be a witch hunt, a settling of scores. There must be trials of criminals. But the trials should be fair, the charges should be just, the sentences should be commensurate with the crimes.

From the lecture "The Judgment of History".


But at the same time in Russia people are cheerfully saying "now they're going to freeze to death in Europe, they should", with no inverse rhetoric directed at ordinary Russians here. Where is this even coming from?

People have been told for so long that in Europe (where they have never been and have never seen any foreign country), there is fear and terror everywhere. It was like in Soviet times, when no one was allowed to go abroad, because if people went out, they would see that there was no horror there - the horror they were told about.

People, who wish everybody to die of cold, are totally zombified, brainwashed. But I want to stress once again that not everyone in Russia thinks this way.

Remember, in a documentary of Ira Shikhman the father of the Russian soldier who died in front of the TV and grumbles "now they will be in our skin".

But this is completely different. It absolutely kills me this condemnation of these relatives of the dead. The disgusting sneering, "thank your son for the car" and so on.

It's quite clear that it's psychologically easier for parents of dead children to accept that their child didn't die for nothing. Someday this father, like so many others, will have the truth explained to him. And it will be terrible. It will require psychological programmes at the very least.

And so they are told that their child is a hero because he died defending his country. People live by that. It makes them feel better about it.

A man's son died! And if the family bought a car and rides it to the cemetery, you should not mock, you should pity.

Ukrainians often accuse the "good Russians" (those who oppose the war) of criminal inaction and of much worse things. How do you respond to this?

I don't. I don't think it's at all right for me to comment on any statements by any Ukrainians right now. Or discuss President Zelensky, whom I have the utmost respect for. I am often asked how relations between our countries will develop after the war. It will take a break, just for people to come to their senses and at least try to talk and overcome their hatred.


А. Tvardovsky:

I know it's not my fault
In the fact that others have not come back from the war,
That they - some older, some younger -
They stayed there, and it's not the same thing,
That I could have, but failed to save them, -
It's not about that, but still, still, still...

From the lecture "Judgement of History".


Interview by Victoria Hoogland

Photo material from Tamara Eidelman's personal archive

Tamara Edelman: this is how propaganda works 
Video

Tamara Edelman: this is how propaganda works 

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Opinion/the Netherlands

Interview with Dutch writer Gijs Kessler "Russia, the country that wants to change"