Uladzimir Matskevich: No nation is exclusively heroic or exclusively felonious

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

The scandal around Svetlana Alexievich’s statements, including a statement of the Polish Foreign Ministry is an attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill.

The words of the Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich during the meeting with the New York readers caused a storm of indignation. And not only in the Belarusan society, but also in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland.

Belarusan sites and bloggers are vying for quoting the selected extracts from the conversation, since the full text or recording of the conversation is missing:

“I'll tell you more. For example, the punishers, who worked in the territory of Belarus, all of them were from Ukraine.”

“Not only in Lithuania, Latvia destroy the Jews before the Germans arrived, so it was in Ukraine. And you know what to do with the Jews of Poland. <...> A friend of mine wrote a journalist in Poland, the Poles did with the Jews: Poles worst treated the Jews. The priests directly to the sermon pronounced “kill the Jew.”

The phrases taken out of context have led to an international scandal. As the EuroBelarus Information Service has already informed, Polish Foreign Ministry condemned her statement, saying that “such kind of statements are not based n facts and are highly unfair and <...> inflict damage on the Polish people.” The polish Ministry emphasizes that thousands of Poles, including priests, were risking their lives to save Jews during the German occupation.

The EuroBelarus Information Service together with the philosopher Uladzimir Matskevich tried to understand what the writer was trying to say.

— So what it was that Svetlana Alexievich was going to say?

— Let’s first understand the local situation in which Alexievich was answering questions. Questions that many different people ask. There is only one passage published of one of the answers, and there is no complete recording anywhere. But it’s possible to understand from the passage that the reader has asked quite a tricky question. As I understand, the question concerned the Latvians who were whitewashing collaborators and traitors that were collaborating with the Germans during the war, about an attempt to get rid of the Soviet past through justifying collaboration with the Nazis. The nature of the question can be guessed from Alexievich’s response.

Alexievich says that not only Latvians are whitewashing their criminals — not only Latvians were collaborating with the Nazis. At that time all the nations were quite aggressive anti-Semites, so we shouldn’t blame exclusively the Germans, the Nazis for persecuting the Jews — both in the pre-war period and during the war. All nations — Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians — are now getting rid of the shameful moments of their history and the Soviet past.

This is the main gist of Alexievich’s answer.

The improvised response generated several generalizations that are incorrect.

But the most important thing is that no nation is exclusively heroic or exclusively felonious. This is the main idea of Alexievich, if you get rid of all inaccuracies and exaggerations, which are quite understandable, since Alexievich is an emotional woman, a writer, and a creative person.

Therefore, the whole scandal, including the statement of the Polish Foreign Ministry is an attempt to make a mountain out of a molehill.

— But the reaction has already followed — both from the Polish Foreign Ministry, as well as from the part of the Belarusan society.

— The extract is certainly not worth the attention of the Polish Foreign Ministry, unless there are other things in the speech that I don’t know about.

As for the Belarusan society it does nothing but looking for something to finding fault with Alexievich’s words. I think there is more envy and resentment than complaints to the content.

— What is the nature of the people’s resentment and envy in relation to Svetlana Alexievich?

— Resentment for the fact that Alexievich — a Russian-language writer, critical of the radical wing of the Belarusan politics rather than the self-sacrificing fighter for the Belarusan idea — gets international recognition.

But one needs to understand something else: of all Belarusan and Belarusan-language writers it is only Vasil Bykau, whose works have been translated into many languages, who could have become the Nobel Prize winner. The Nobel Prize is given to people who are known and popular all over the world, not only in their own country.

Indeed, Alexievich is focused on the negative aspects of what can be called the “Soviet man.” Her attention is drawn to the time of the “second-hand” that goes away, but clings and prevents the development. She has a particular attitude and specific interest. But no writer, no creative person should ever be blamed for his or her focus. This is her creative direction, and it is very relevant and terribly important: we haven’t got rid of the Soviet in us yet.

It is the Soviet in the public and individual consciousness that leads to these waves of “popular anger” towards Alexievich. People, who think that they have gotten rid of all this, are, in fact, carrying the Soviet inside them: they are as intolerant as the Bolsheviks. Such radicalism and fundamentalism is typical of any nation. Its origin is different, but its essence is the same — intolerance to other people’s opinions, xenophobia, attempts to assert the superiority of one people over another, division of peoples into totally bad or totally good, etc.

Everything bad that happens in Belarus is still attributed to the fact that the country was occupied by Russia. Russian factor is very significant, but it is only one of the factors. Everything else is on us: it is we, Belarusans, who voted for Lukashenka, so we should look for the cause of all the troubles in ourselves in the first place. Alexievich has been constantly speaking about it; but when she was saying it to Belarusans we haven’t heard it, whereas now, when she became a Nobel laureate, she speaks with the whole world. These things are painful to listen to, especially for the representatives of other nations. But if you are not going to repent of it and not acknowledge the sins of your own people, then Alexievich will do the hard work for you.

And she does.