Andreï Makine: “World War III is increasingly likely”

The story of this man is also the story of a century. Through the fate of his character Valdas Bataeff, Andreï Makine condenses in his new novel, Old calendar of a love (Grasset), decades of change in Russia and the world. The false pretense of tsarism, the atrocities of the civil war between the Red and White, motorcycle taxi rides in host country Paris, the near-heroic resistance under the French Occupation… Frescoes with astonishing brevity, but also sensitive chronicles of love: bonds that reunites Valdas with Taïa, a smuggler he meets in Crimea, escaping the shocks of history and human cruelty.

If the story was written before the start of the war in Ukraine, it echoes it in a disturbing way. The conflict is unhesitatingly expressed by naturalized Russian-born and French-born academics, with a mixture of desperation and fervor. At the risk of controversy. Interview.

L’Express: Your character wants to escape from History, this “confusion of drama and farce, cruelty and redemption of fugitives”, this “vortex of masks”. Do you share this humiliation?

Andrei Makin : It’s not insults but clarity. I was born four years after Stalin’s death, in a Russia that was still very much the same as the previous era. And I witnessed, near or far, the Cold War, like a hot war that spilled blood on this planet. I watched, like others, the attempts at peaceful coexistence between the Soviet Union and the United States, the decay of Sovietism, the fall of Communism. Like all my contemporaries, I witnessed many wars and massacres, while listening to great humanist speeches, which often contradicted reality. Dostoyevsky’s beautiful wish, his mantra “Beauty will save the world” was, unfortunately, always betrayed.

Your mantra is kinda “Beauty lets you escape the world”?

No, my character doesn’t preach romantic escapism. Their wisdom is simple: Taïa, a rejected and hurt woman, saves those she loves. A physical save when he protects Valdas. Spiritual salvation, because thanks to him, he guessed that there is another life, in the heart of the worst atrocities of war. Although the situation, as today in Ukraine, may seem hopeless.

Last March, you gave Figaro an interview for which you were subjected to harsh criticism. You have been criticized for sending Europe and Russia back to back…

No, I don’t put them on an equal footing. When I give this interview, there are no European troops in Ukraine, that’s a fact. But for eight years, as Mrs. Merkel, we have tried to arm Ukraine and turn it into a Nato base. Without this threat, war would never happen. Rightly or wrongly, the Russians have developed an obsessive attitude, telling themselves that after becoming a member of NATO, Ukraine will have American missiles on its soil, which will put Moscow down within minutes of their attack. I am a radical anti-warmoner and in interviews with Figaro, I explained that Europe, in my humble opinion, must do everything to become a haven of peace, the only way out to avoid the third world war, which is becoming more and more likely. A continent free from blocks and military bases. The 100 billion euros that Mr. Scholz plans to invest in the rearmament of Germany could be used to fight hunger (3 million children starve to death every year on this planet!) and fight poverty, which now affects even developed countries.

Before the start of the conflict, you praised Vladimir Putin. In 2021, for example, you stated in Rated Current “You see Russia rising from the ashes, with its national and spiritual foundations. […] He’s not my hero, but he’s got what you’re missing: deep feelings for the motherland”…

I judge statesmen by their deeds, and according to them my opinion changes, which is natural. As for the “deep feeling of the motherland”, this is the quality that most Russians value in Putin. Does seeing this automatically make you or me a bloodthirsty Kremlin henchman? Russians have tragic memories of the millions who died in World War II and seeing the Nazi emblem on some uniforms in Ukraine or the Baltic states brings back painful memories for them. Again, to awaken it is not to swear allegiance to Stalinist nostalgia. The vision of the Russian people is undoubtedly schematic but not without meaning: the predatory oligarchic regime under Yeltsin, which had corrupted the country (and it’s not over yet!), has given way to a system that is certainly stricter but less anarchic. . I don’t need to show you that this authoritarian taste is growing today on all continents, including Europe. Russians have always feared a return to the warlike chaos they know so well (Chechnya, Moldova, Georgia, Central Asia, Armenia, etc.).

Don’t you think the nuances are heard when we talk about this conflict?

Not. What matters today is finding a solution in Ukraine. The European Titanic is sinking into a deadly conflict and the main thing is to save the castaways and not to start wars and arrange a round table at which the “experts” repeat like parrots: Putin is Satan and Russia is a monster. These words will not save those who die under the bombs. Exactly a century ago, the Russian Civil War ended. My book is about that time. One hundred years later, we are faced with the same tragedy. A century ago, civil strife in Russia was exacerbated by the military intervention of Britain, America, Germany, France… Of those who could work to find peace. Instead, we’d rather carve out the territory of a dying Empire and covet this or that piece. I repeat, this is how the Russian people today see the situation and these observations, as you well know, in no way diminish the judgment that you or I can pass on the dire realities of the Russian-led war in Ukraine.

But what have you been criticized for not saying clearly enough that Russia is behaving horribly…

All wars are terrible, I couldn’t be clearer. Or maybe, in your opinion, American bombs – dropped on Japan, Vietnam, Serbia, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries – yes, these carpet bombs look more ethical and gentler than the bombs thrown by Russia? Instead of chasing this horrific ping-pong on all television (hence who is the most frequent killer?), let’s put all our strength into stopping this war in which Europe is at risk of committing suicide. And don’t let the Ukrainians just be the hostages of the Pentagon. The Ukrainian people deserve better than to suffer and die for the geopolitical interests of a power-hungry oligarch.

To hold America accountable for the conflict, isn’t this, for Russia, an admission of weakness and a strategy of diversion?

An American farmer on his tractor doesn’t even know where Donbass is. A Russian peasant does not hate his Ukrainian brother. A worker in Kharkiv, Ukraine, doesn’t hate a worker who works in a factory in Siberia. On the other hand, workers, whether American, Ukrainian, Russian or French, have a natural solidarity with one another. But the ruling class, as always, seeks only access to markets and the plundering of wealth.

But what to do, do you think? Your idea of ​​a Europe protecting peace, whose two guarantors are France and Russia, isn’t that ridiculous?

Impossible. And de Gaulle understood this perfectly, never being satisfied with the Kremlin. France and Russia, at the two ends of Europe, are called upon, if only geographically, to ensure the balance. If, by the time of the Minsk agreements, this Franco-Russian tandem could have worked, war, I repeat, could have been avoided. But here we are talking about geopolitics. However, for me, this terrible conflict is a permanent source of personal suffering. All my youth I lived surrounded by many Ukrainians, I studied their poems and songs. Knowing that their children and grandchildren were forced to die or killed is heartbreaking. And what is even more tragic, in 1991, at the time of independence, Ukraine was a prosperous country, with a solid industry and maintaining relations with Russia that could remain brothers, which would be beneficial for both countries. Within a few years, all of these treasures were squandered by a group of predators. And Russia has no right to criticize Ukraine or lecture it because their criminalized elite behaved the same way during the 1990s.

Your book questions Russian identity, both haunting and untraceable…

The historical, economic, sociological reading grids, etc., are increasingly not responding well to the big questions that arise before humanity, whose future is teetering on the verge of a fatal choice. This is why I wrote books that touch on the spiritual and existential essence of humanity. Admittedly, resurrecting it amid entertainment culture may at first seem destined to be heard by only a small number of readers — those who understand that our civilization, with its boundless hubris of material predation and growth, is terminal. It’s easier not to think about it, following the football championship while in Ukraine the men are suffering and dying. But imagine this hypothesis: we cancel all games, all entertainment, all this circus of deplorable political lies, and people of good will, believe it or not, rise up against this planet-destroying conflict. We desperately want to see representatives of the major religions stand up in Ukraine, at the forefront, to separate the fighters, to make them aware of the boundless abuse that the leaders expose them to. Even in the worst moments of the two world wars, we have observed these moments of solidarity when soldiers emerged from opposing trenches and made friends in a spirit that only hope can nourish. A very fragile movement, you will say, but which, I hope in spite of everything, can end this war whose outcome we are forbidden to imagine.

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