A day before the high drama of Vladimir Putin’s re-anointment, what’s on my mind? Naughty Call Center Girls and 20 Crazy Super Hero Drawing Art, that’s what. I’m wondering, why would Russia’s trusted, state-sponsored news agency RIA Novosti have links to that kind of stuff among its “external partner” sites? Doesn’t it occur to them that it looks a little, er, undignified? Not up to the standards set by Putin himself?
I know our readers don’t come to this page looking for naughty girls and probably not superheroes either. So, I thought, what’s the take on this election by one of Russia’s most esteemed young writers, a guy who knows as well as anyone what goes on in the heads of young people? – so say the reviews. If it sometimes seems that to be a great Russia writer you’ve got to have lived through interesting times, Zakhar Prilepin definitely qualifies. Barely out of his 20s, he saw service in Chechnya as a member of the OMON special police (see photo below). He then took up journalism and prose writing, has won a spate of awards for his fiction, and runs the Nizhniy Novgorod bureau of the boldly independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper. His new book, a story collection called Vosmerka (Eight), is “the most anticipated Russian book of 2012” and he’s been compared to Tolstoy by the great writer’s relation Tatyana Tolstaya herself.
Prilepin is also engaged in opposition politics. His semi-official biography says he belongs to the “radical left opposition party coalition” Other Russia. Now, “radical left” is not the standard description for Other Russia, at least not in the Western media. But it’s also a fairly strange self-description from a man who once wrote, according to a recent piece in Trud, that he had “always felt like a patriot and a conservative” and has “stayed conservative and statist.”
Prilepin, it seems, is not to be tied down by ideological slogans, no more than Eduard Limonov, head of the banned, uncategorizable National Bolshevik Party. Prilepin’s a member of that one too (and wrote an acclaimed novel about it). He also co-chairs Alexei Navalny’s NAROD association, which tries to wrest back the title of “nationalist” from the slanders of the government provocateurs who smear their opponents with false accusations of xenophobia. (NAROD’s manifesto, signed by Prilepin, is worth reading. Radical it may be, but leftish it isn’t, except insofar as Putinism is “rightist.”)
In the Trud interview Prilepin says he still agrees that as he wrote in 2007, “Youth in Russia is probably the most reactionary segment of society. Young people haven’t had anything yet but are afraid to lose everything.” Nothing has changed; today’s young people, “completely deprived of deeply optimistic romanticism,” are convinced that the world does not change and it’s not even worth trying.
It may be that Prilepin the oppositionist has different views on the possibility of change in Russia than Prilepin the writer. Come Monday, we have a better idea of what “the Russian opposition” – whatever and whoever it may be – is up against.
Photos from zaharprilepin.ru