One of the consequences of selecting a literary nobody for the world’s most prestigious intellectual prize is that people will begin digging into their biographies. And find some very, very interesting things.
This is what has been happening in regards to 2015 Nobel Literature Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich, whose main distinguishing feature seems to be neither eminence nor literary quality but dogged opposition to everything and everyone that the Western elites dislike – first and foremost, the genetically aggressive and barbarous Russian people and their current President, Putin.
Russia blogger Igor Petrov recently discovered some of her writings for a Soviet literary journal from 1977. Intended to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the Polish founder of the Soviet secret police, it is entitled “The Sword and Flame of the Revolution” – and is every bit the breathless panegyric you might expect from something like that.
I have collected Petrov’s scans of her article into a PDF which you can download here (in Russian, of course).
Here are some choice quotes:
I always catch myself thinking that I want to quote Dzerzhinsky himself. His diaries. His letters. And I don’t do this out of any desire to easen my journalistic tasks, but out of adoration for his personality, for the words that he spoke, and the thoughts he must have felt. I know that Dzerzhinsky loved children very much… Thousands of street orphans owe him their new lives…
I wonder if the words she quoted from Dzerzhinsky ever included the following: “We represent in ourselves organized terror – this must be said very clearly,” or this: “[The Red Terror involves] the terrorization, arrests and extermination of enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles.”
The whole thing goes on and on in a similar vein, recounting anecdotes about Dzerzhinsky modest and selfless character. He refused the gift of a new suiter because so many other people were living in poverty. He ordered the Turkmen comrades to reverse their decision to name a railway after him. He worked and lived in his office, only venturing to sleep once every few days. On and on it goes. In short, it is a good illustration of why most Soviet literary journals went unread, and for that matter why most Russians were unaware of the existence of “stars” like Alexievich before a few guys in Sweden decided to boost her prominence.
When my son grows up, we will certainly both come to this place to bow before the immortal spirit of him, who carried the name Felix Dzerzhinsky – the “sword and flame” of the proletarian revolution.
This is cringeworthy stuff even by Brezhnevite Soviet standards. This is far too ardent – in order words, she is trying way too hard – for this to be explainable as merely a way of paying the bills.
Instead, the image that emerges instead is of Svetlana Alexievich as a standard pen for hire spouting the politically correct drivel of the day. This changed decade to decade. In the 1970s, that involved writing paeans to the blood-drenched spiritual ancestor of the KGB. In the late 1980s – humanistic criticism of Chernobyl and Afghanistan. In the 1990s – the denigration of the regime she had once eulogized. Come the mid-2000s, the Obkom – the one based in Washington D.C., this time round – emphasized a new set of guideposts for its admirers in the Russosphere, centered around demonization of Putin and the delegitimization of Russian statehood and the opinions of ordinary Russians in general. Fervent support for the Maidan and the so-called Revolution of Dignity is merely the latest expression of this.
In short, she is the mirror opposite of someone like Solzhenitsyn, who whether you agree with him or not, stayed constant to his ideals throughout his life, even as the West went from praising to vilifying him as soon as he was perceived to have outlived his usefulness.
And, lest it be forgotten, anybody who didn’t take the new party line fast enough is – according to Alexievich herself – to be firmly punished and removed. All in the best traditions of her enduring idol, Iron Felix himself.
Of course Russian TV corrupts you. What the Russian media says today – they simply have to be prosecuted for it. For what they say about Europe, about Donbass, about Ukrainians… But this isn’t all. The problem is that people actually want to hear this. We can talk today about a collective Putin, because there is a Putin sitting in all Russians. The Red Empire has vanished, but its people have remained.
What can we take away from this? To be sure, one presumes that the Nobel Prize Committee never got the chance to be acquainted with Alexievich’s pre-perestroika writings.
But insofar as uncritical loyalty and dedication towards the latest politically correct dogma of the day is now standard practice in the West as it was in the Soviet Union – and in this respect, Sweden Yes! is a leader, not a follower – the Nobel Prize Committee’s decision in light of these revelations can be considered even more “correct” than was the case beforehand.