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Writer Boris Akunin: "I absolutely did not expect uncontrollable adventurism from an elderly, sluggish ruler"


Humanitarian organisation "True Russia" will give a presentation of the new book by Boris Akunin (Grigory Chkhartishvili) "The Pit" on June 7 and 8 in Belgium and the Netherlands, respectively. Proceeds from ticket sales will go to help victims of the war in Ukraine.

On the eve of the meeting with Boris Akunin in Amsterdam, Victoria Hoogland spoke with the writer about history, literature and hope.

Tickets for the Reader's Meeting in Amsterdam and Brussels are available here.

Grigory Shalvovich, the novel "The Pit" in the genre of "gender suspense", which you are now presenting in several European capitals, was created in just six weeks. And you sat down to write it immediately after you learned the diagnosis - cancer in the terminal stage.

- When from ordinary life you suddenly fall into a black hole (and this is exactly what happened to me, emotionally), you have a choice.

You can either sob - or say to yourself: no matter how much time I have left, it's all mine.

I will try to spend it meaningfully and as pleasantly as possible. It is easy for a writer in this sense. You go to another world, and everything is fine there. The Russian word "pit" (“jama”)  ,in Japanese, means the opposite - "mountain". The novel was written so quickly because I was reluctant to emerge from a world where everything is different. There, on top of the mountain, under the clouds, I spent a month and a half, and as soon as I finished the novel, the doctor called and said something like “you will laugh a lot, but this is not what we all thought.”

We are very happy to hear that the doctors were wrong.

- That's why the novel turned out to be so frivolous - it was  a form of escapism.

In the Autumn of 2022, you spoke in Berlin and said: “Ukrainians have lived for 30 years in a non-imperial system - and a free nation has developed.” Will thirty years be enough for us in the future?

- Yes, everything will happen much faster. After ten years of free living, Russia will be unrecognisable. Unless, of course, it is preserved as a single country, which seems to me doubtful. And if imperialism is once and for all amputated. Not figuratively, but in practice - through demilitarisation and decentralization.

Together with Sergei Guriev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, you created the True Russia organisation. You managed to unite completely different types of people: you are supported by Ulitskaya, Makarevich, Parfyonov, Yurovsky, and many others. A troublesome topic, but still - why did you succeed and the opposition leaders fail?

- We didn't do very well. It could have been much, much better. On the first wave of general indignation at the aggression and compassion for refugees, we raised quite a lot of money, but enthusiasm alone is not enough. Fundraising work requires professionalism, but we are still amateurs.

Worst of all, the phrase "True Russia", which seemed to us so successful, sounds lousy in the second year of the war.

We wanted to demonstrate to the whole world, and especially to Ukrainians, that the Putinites are not true Russia, but a menace. True Russians are against war and dictatorship, now we will gather them all together and show how many of us there are. Alas, in 2023 the world is sure that Putin is the true Russia.

The dictator may have lost the war, but he also soiled the name "Russia", he succeeded. So, alas, it is not for me to teach the leaders of the opposition or anyone else how to live and what to do.

True Russia is a humanitarian organisation founded by Boris Akunin, Mikhail Baryshnikov and economist Sergei Guriev. The organisation advocates an immediate end to the war in Ukraine and helps the victims of Putin's aggression.

True Russia in social networks:

You have said many times that you will not write about Stalin, since Stalinism is still not outdated and the necessary objectivity will not be apparent. In 2022, you have changed your mind and are preparing for publication the tenth volume of the History of the Russian State, dedicated to the 20th century. Why did you change your mind?

- I had a feeling that the story started racing within me. It is necessary to quickly finish the history of the Russian state, until it crumbles. The tenth volume will be about the Lenin and Stalin era, 1917 - 1953. And objectivity - yes, I have a hard time with it. I really don't like Stalin. Yes, and Lenin is not very good. But I'm trying to be neutral.

I imagine that I am describing the history of ancient Rome. "On the one hand, Sulla was a monster, but on the other hand ...".

How can it be that a country fooled by history (we-defeated-Hitler-while-America-bombed-Iraq) does not see and is not afraid of such obvious historical parallels (after all, from the sentence of Kara-Murza to “Comrade Stalin, there was a monstrous mistake " - one step).

- There is no abstract "country". There are people of the Putin system who feed on it. They are probably ten percent. What to expect from them? So that they voluntarily move away from the supplier? Then there are us- those to whom the Putin system is disgusting. There are maybe fifteen percent of us, and many have left. And the remaining three-quarters are people without political views, it is very difficult for them to live, they are immersed in everyday worries and do not have the habit of thinking about "historical parallels."

Boris Akunin's Instagram

Does Putin  represent pure chaos for you, a tragic or even comic character? Is there some kind of evolution, a change in the hero?

- Putin for me is an etude on the topic "The role of the individual in history." A person, even a very active one, cannot change the general course of history, but can colour it in one way or another. For example, in blood.

Well, that is, it was clear that in 1991 the last of the colonial empires entered a long and painful period of disintegration, that there were objective forces that would hinder this process and try to reverse it.

But I did not at all expect uncontrollable adventurism from an elderly, sluggish ruler. There were some pathological changes in his brain.

In fact, one person, without the support of his own system (you remember how they foolishly showed us that meeting of the Security Council), started all this mess. In Russia, such celebrated tyranny has not happened since the time of Paul the First.

Probably, in the end, the conclusion will be the same as Paul's. In any case, the empire cannot be restored, and now it will fall apart even faster.

Cover of Boris Akunin's new book "The Pit"

At the meeting in Berlin, you also said that you are still an optimist by nature and the glass is half full. Where does your emotional strength come from, is there a magic mantra from Boris Akunin that you can repeat to yourself in moments of despair?

- All the most important things happen inside you.

External events are tests of your  resilience, your strength is determined by your reactions to these tests, by your actions.

If a person is resilient, it is difficult to knock them down, because they are 100% independent.

Please recommend  three  books that every thinking person should read in 2023 in order not to go crazy.

- I always read the memoirs of people who survived the revolution and the civil war. There was such a wonderful project, called the Archive of the Russian Revolution. They were much worse off than us.

Forgive my naive question. Does a country “where the main dead man has not yet been buried” have any hope at all?

- Hope for what? That everything will itself work out? I don't think so. But I don't have a sense of hopelessness. Everything will be difficult, traumatic, and maybe tragic. But Putin and Putinism is a historical regression.

Spring may be late, but the ice on the river will still crack. There will be a flood.

This is a dangerous time, it will not only melt the ice, but also bring a lot of chaos, and drown someone. Then summer will come.

Facing Putin, what would Fandorin say to him?

- "T-time to commit  hara-kiri."

Interviewed by: Victoria Hoogland

Cover photo: