Mikhail Shishkin: On behalf of Russia, I ask Ukrainians for forgiveness
Russia is associated with Russian literature and music no longer, but instead with children who are being bombed. Putin's crime is that he has poisoned people with hatred. Putin will go away, but pain and anger can last much longer, writes Russian writer Mikhail Shishkin, in the wake of the Russian Federation's invasion of Ukraine.
This war didn't start right now, but rather back in 2014. The western world simply did not want to comprehend this and so pretended that nothing terrible was taking place.
Through all the ensuing years, I have tried to explain Putin to people here through my speeches and writings. I did not succeed.
Now Putin himself made all clear to those people.
I am Russian. Putin is committing heinous crimes on behalf of my people, of my country and of me. Putin is not Russia. Russia is in pain and shame.
On behalf of my Russia and on behalf of my people, I apologize to all Ukrainians.
However, I realize that not everything that happens is forgivable.
After each one of my articles appeared in the Swiss press, outraged letters from the Russian Embassy in Bern appeared at the editorial office.
Now the people have fallen silent. Maybe they are packing suitcases and writing up their applications for political asylum?
I want to return to Russia. But to which sort of Russia? Putin's Russia is impossible to breathe in - the smell of the militia boot is just too strong.
I want to return to my country, about which I wrote in a public letter, when I refused to represent Putin's Russia at international book fairs in 2013, prior to the annexation of Crimea and the start of the war against Ukraine as follows:
"I want to represent, and will represent in the future, a different country; my own Russia, a land freed from self-proclamation, whose state structure does not protect the right to corruption, but the rights of the individual, a land of a free people with a free press and free elections."
The space for freedom of expression in Russia has already diminished to the scope of the Internet, but war censorship is still in place there as well. Authorities have stated that any critical stance against Russia and its war will be interpreted as treason and punishable under wartime laws.
What can a writer do? Only what they can do: Speak clearly. Silence means supporting an aggressor. In the 19th century, the rebellious Poles fought against the Russian Tsarist authorities: "For our freedom and yours."
Ukrainians are currently fighting Putin's army for our freedom and for yours. They are defending not only their own human dignity, but the dignity of all mankind. Ukraine protects our freedom and our dignity. We have to help it with everything we can.
The crime of the regime also derives from the fact that the stigma has engulfed the entire country. Russia is no longer associated with Russian literature and music, but with children who are being bombed. Putin's crime is that he has poisoned the people with hatred. Putin will go away, but the pain and anger will last a long time. And only art, literature and culture can help overcome this trauma.
Sooner or later, the dictator's vile and meaningless life will come to an end, but the culture will endure and will continue to do so after Putin. Literature does not have to deal with Putin, literature does not have to explain war.
The war cannot be explained in terms of: Why do people command one nation to kill another? Literature is the polar opposite of war. True literature always speaks of man's need for love, and not hatred.
What awaits us? At best, there won't be a nuclear war. I would very much like to believe that the lunatic will not hit the red button or that none of his subordinates will obey that last order. But that is the only good thing awaiting us.
After Putin, the state that is the Russian Federation will no longer exist on the map. The process of the collapse of the empire will continue. The freeing of Chechnya will be followed by that of other peoples and regions. The power struggle begins.
A populace does not want to live in chaos, and the desire for a firm hand is growing again.
Even in the freest elections, if any, a new dictator will come to power. And the West will support him, because he has the power to push the red button. And, who knows, it may happen all over again.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte