“Newspapers replace the Iron Curtain with a paper one”
Russian poet and social activist Evgeny Yevtushenko sees a simple human approach as a solution to universal political problems.
RT: The so called crucial “thaw” in the USSR of the 1960s was the time when you gained most of your popularity. Do you still consider yourself a dissident?
Evgeny Yevtushenko: I never called myself a dissident. Rebel – yes, but, you know, Pushkin gave us a very inviting example being at the same time, as he was, a statesman and a rebel. You could combine it, you know. I was never interested in politics professionally. But I think that a writer could not be indifferent to politics, because if he is indifferent to politics it means that he is indifferent to the people.
RT: How important is it to you what you achieved in the 1960s from the sort of historical perspective now that you can look back?
Y.Y.: First of all I could tell you that I was born in the country where the rest of the world was stolen from us. It was impossible. Even that’s why my English is so bad. I teach in my bad English, and my students don’t complain about it, probably because I compensate it with my passion, with my sincerity, and then with my knowledge of literature – what I am teaching. But at the same time, it was because we didn’t have any horizons. To steal the possibility to see the rest of the world means someone is stealing the horizon from you. The world was divided by the Iron Curtain from both sides, and both sides were demonizing each other.
When our globe was born it didn’t, of course, have any kind of borders. They’re scars, borders – they are scars of the worst kind. The united Europe now we couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of the twentieth century. Now we could not yet imagine a borderless, an all-borderless planet, but it will happen. But I think that the greatest nuclear powers like Russia and America, we have to take the rusty fragments of the Iron Curtain off our eyes. They still are in our eyes. Above all, we have to use a more human approach to political problems. We are human beings – we don’t use enough of a simple human approach to a political problem. We are trying to resolve political problems politically. And if we have one problem, for example, Palestinian–Israeli, Georgian–Abkhazian, or many other problems, we are always trying to decide it politically. It’s not true.
RT: Talking about history, many members of your family went through harsh repressions during the 1930s. Do you believe that the young generation of Russians knows the history of their country well enough?
Y.Y.: No. I know that they don’t know enough, because only a very small percent of young generation didn’t find the book Archipelago Gulag very boring. Most of them find it boring. This is a problem when I talk to them, they are saying to me: “Yevgeny Aleksandrovich, we were not born with Stalin, and we are not responsible for Stalin’s crime, why? This is your time, the time of your generation. We understand why it’s important for you, but we are not guilty of the past.”
But it’s the same in America, America’s young generation. May I say to you as a teacher, I admired teaching Americans, I admire my students, I admire Tulsa when I teach, it’s a wonderful city. It feels like my second motherland, really, like my Zima junction where I was born in Siberia. But once, for instance, one girl wrote in her paper, “Mr. Yevtushenko, I’ve seen your film ‘Kindergarten’ about the Second World War, and I was very nicely surprised that despite during that war Russia was on the side of Hitler fighting against United States, you showed me that so many Russians were such nice and wonderful human beings.” And if we not will study our mistakes and our crimes, crimes of other generations, we will repeat them. That’s it.
RT: You’ve traveled across all the continents; you’ve been giving lectures, you are now teaching in the United States. Do you have a feeling that across the world and particularly in the West the view of Russia is still that of a sinister and dangerous place?
Y.Y.: Both of us do not have a good reputation now, America and Russia, and that’s not right. We don’t deserve such a bad reputation, both of our countries, because we all have skeletons in our closets, but in America and Russia we have great intellectuals, while there’s common opinion in Europe that there are no intellectuals in America. It’s wrong. Some people in America – not everybody – they think of Russia as being very aggressive and hating Western countries. That’s not true. So we have to work together.
RT: Are you content with all the changes that have taken place in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union?
Y.Y.: With some, yes. For instance, Russia is now an open country. A Russian can leave whenever he or she wants to and go abroad and this is great. The new generation was not born in a cage. We can read any books without censorship now. Everything that was published abroad is published in Russia, though it includes, unfortunately, pornography and cheap thrillers.
Of course we cannot change everything, but we have some genetically wrong seeds – and America too, and we should get rid of them. Now we do not have an Iron Curtain, we have a newspaper curtain. American and Russian newspapers have created this new curtain, but there is no curtain between our poetry and literature.