Exclusive: Nobel laureate Alexievich on Putin and Soviet trauma

FRANCE 24 screen grab

Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich, winner of this year’s Nobel literature prize, tells FRANCE 24 that Russia’s new-found belligerence is a “terrifying legacy” of its traumatic experience under Soviet rule.


On Thursday, Alexievich became the 14th woman to win literature’s top distinction – and one of only a few Nobel laureates to be rewarded for non-fiction work, in her case blending journalism with literary flourishes.

The Swedish Academy said she had been chosen for “her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.

The 67-year-old Belarusian is famous for her investigations into the effects of the Socialist era on human psychology, and the emergence of the “Homo Sovieticus” or “Red Man”, as she calls it.

She believes the long-term damage done by communist totalitarianism is being felt ever more keenly today with the return of a belligerent Russia on the international stage.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin "has found a way to talk to this little ‘Red Man’”, Alexievich told FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg during an exclusive interview in Minsk.

“He presented this person with things this person could understand: The return of the strong authoritarian state; Europe as enemy, once again; America as enemy, once again,” she said.

“War, and the militarisation of consciousness, became normal once again. And what we are seeing today is that the most terrifying legacy of the Socialist period, the Red period, is this very traumatised person.”

Alexievich's last book, "Second-Hand Time", which is due out in English next year, is dedicated to this problem.

She said her aim was to help people understand why many in Russia and other former Soviet states “suddenly gave up on freedom once again”.

“I wanted to explain that the romanticism we had in the 1990s, when Europe thought that Russia had opened up to the world, and Russia thought that she would become completely different, (…) that those days are over now,” she said.

Discussing Putin and others in the Russian elite, she said they “wanted to enter the free world, as they themselves called it, but with their own rules of the game”.

“But it turned out you can’t: the world lives according to different rules. And that brought out the hatred in them that we are seeing today,” she said, concluding with a bleak forecast: “The time of hope is over (…), and now we are entering a very grave era”.

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