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IN TIME OF TROUBLES ONE SHOULD STAKE ON THE IDEA

INTERVIEW WITH THE WRITER LEONID BORODIN

Leonid Borodin

Established by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1998 this prize is now nearly the only literary worthwhile prize. In the past years it was awarded to a literary critic Vladimir Toporov, poet Inna Lisnyanskaya, prosaists Valentin Rasputin, Yevgeny Nosov and Konstantin Vorobyev (posthumously). In March prize-winners of 2002 were announced. They are political scientist Alexander Panarin and prosaist Leonid Borodin. The prize to Borodin was awarded for "works in which troubles of the Russian life are shown with rare moral purity and sense of tragedy, for consecutiveness and steadiness in search of truth". These words can be attributed not only to the works of Leonid Borodin but also to his personality. Variety of his works strikes. A lyrical tale "A Year of Wonder and Sorrow", a novel about tragic consequences of the revolution and the civil war "The Third Truth", a novel about political dissidents "Parting", novel of perestroika time "Woman in the Sea" which was compared by critics with Lermontov's "Taman", historical novel "Tsarine of Troubles", "Bozhepolie" about life and death tragedy of a communist party leader - the list can go on. In spite of 11 years spent by Leonid Ivanovich in camps only one of his novels - "Rules of the Game" - is dedicated to this theme. He believes that nothing is to be added to what Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov have written. Solzhenytsyn's prize-winner in 2002, chief editor of "Moscow" journal, outstanding Russian writer Leonid Borodin is answering the questions of "Pravoslavie.Ru".


- Leonid Ivanovich, first of all I congratulate you on being awarded with the prize.

Thank you. I knew even earlier that Alexander Isaevich treated me and my works well but such an award is always pleasant. Also, financial help in our time is not superfluous.

- When did you start writing?

In the prison camps. I was born in Irkutsk in 1938 in the teachers' family. I spent my childhood in Irkutsk oblast. I was growing as a Soviet patriot. I want to stress - Soviet and not Russian. I believed in all that I was taught at school: that the tsarist Russia was the prison of peoples, that the revolution brought them freedom... After finishing school at the appeal of the Party I entered the School of Militia. XX Conference of the CPSU did not shake my faith into the communism but I understood that the Soviet system was far from its ideals. I left the School of Militia, entered the Philological Department of the Irkutsk University. There was a study group, a circle where many social and political problems were discussed. I wrote a fable about Khruschev and was excluded from the University. Went to build the Bratsk hydro-electric station and then moved to Norilsk.

- As rehabilitation?

That as well... Upon my return I entered the Historical-Philological Department of the Pedagogical College in Ulan-Ude. I started studies in the Russian Language and Literature Division but was interested more in the history and soon I passed to the Historical Division for postal tuition. Several years I taught history in village schools: first in Buryatia, then near Leningrad.

- And continued to resist the regime?

Everywhere where I went different circles were set up. In Norilsk we tried to critically interpret Marxism. Illegal organizations of 5-6 people already existed in St.Pete in those days. Then I became a member of All-Russia Social-Christian Union of Liberation of Peoples (VSHSON) headed by Igor Ogurtsov.

- Were you already interested in Christianity at that time?

Of course. In all circles there were books on the Russian religious philosophy, "Vekhi" ("Mile stones", a philosophical journal - translator's remark). We got them in different ways. I found myself in St.Pete only because I came to enter the post-graduate Department of History of Philosophy of LGU (Leningrad State University - translator's remark). I presented the work on Berdyaev. It was accepted and with consent of my professor I was planning to write a Ph.D. thesis on Berdyaev too. But I was not accepted for the post-graduate studies because the qualifying exams on special subjects which I passed in Irkutsk University were not approved in Moscow and Leningrad Universities. To take the exams anew was late that year and we agreed with the professor that I would be writing the thesis and when it is ready we would solve the problem somehow. It was in 1964. I never finished writing it. In 1967 I was arrested.

- For studying religious philosophy?

No, we actually deserved the arrest. VSHSON was a militarized organization aiming at the armed seizure of the power. Igor Ogurtsov realized that socialism could not improve without undermining the country. Sooner or later it should have collapsed and ruined the state. According to the program prepared by Ogurtsov it was necessary to prepare the army which would seize the power at a critical moment and not only prevent the country from collapsing but finish up with the communism and create the transitional type of the state with the Orthodox Christian orientation. The program described it very meticulously. There was much naive in it but even up until now not a single of the existing parties in Russia have come up to the three basic slogans - christianization of the politics, economy and culture. It was not about creating a theocratic state, it was about spiritual orientation.

- Among members of your organization were there people visiting the church?

Yes but few. Everybody has their own way. Since I was preparing myself for defending a thesis on the history of philosophy, I read a lot of works on philosophy. Having read for the first time the Gospel I realized how the ideas were incommensurable: Gegel, great as he is, whom I was fond of, his works - are only glimpses of limited knowledge, sometimes questionable, more often they have Christianity as their starting point rather than the aim. At that time I preferred Christianity only on the rational level, understanding it as philosophy of preserving the mankind. Of course I had thirst for the church already at that time. Though I lived quite far from St.Pete I tried my best to come to attend services every week at St. Nicholas Cathedral. I liked being there very much but it was more an emotional and aesthetic feeling. At that time I wasn't even baptized. It was not until 1974 that I was baptized, a year after my release from prison.

- How was your organization disclosed?

As usual. The goal of VSHSON was not propaganda but growth. One man was introduced from the outside, he got frightened, informed the authorities, we were all arrested. I received 6 years. First I was sent to Mordovia and later transferred to Vladimir prison.

- Were there people in prison who influenced your views?

No, by that time I had rather firm views. I believe VSHSON was to a great extent ahead of other illegal organizations. But there were many people who influenced my attitude towards the life. I did not always share their beliefs but was impressed by the firmness with which they were ready to stand up for them. We had heated disputes but we did not afford to insult each other. I believe my first imprisonment was my second university. Whosoever I met among the imprisoned: Bandera supporters (Ukrainian ultra-nationalists - translator's remark), Beria's generals, condemned simultaneously with Beria himself, polizai (members of the police during German occupation), all kinds of nationalists. Not all acquaintances were pleasant, but it was nonetheless a very interesting experience.

- Was it during the first imprisonment that you started writing?

I was writing a little before the arrest, some dozen of stories were published in a regional newspaper "Luzhskaya Pravda" but my first popular works - "Novel of The Strange Time", short stories "Meeting", "Variant", "Before the Court" - were written while I was in prison.

- You seem to realize then for the first time that you are a writer?

I don't realize it even now. I'm writing because I've got this need but I'm not sure it's good. I had several friends whom I showed my works. Soon after I was released from prison I met Igor Shafarevich. Up until the second arrest he was the first to read all of my works.

- For the second time you were put into prison?..

9 years later, in 1982. Those were not easy years. I changed my dwelling 16 times. In 1974 I married for the second time. (Unfortunately my first family broke before the arrest). In 1976 our daughter was born. I had to maintain the family but getting a job with my background was extremely difficult. I worked at a railway in Ochakovo, then we moved to Petushki. I wanted to get a job of a wagon inspector there but was not accepted. I wasn't accepted to the match producing factory Balabanovo as a fireman as well though half of workers there were ex-convicts. We were living self-defending. The famous song-writer Peter Starchik's daughter was a little older than mine. We inherited a bed from her. Then the Solzhenitsyn's Foundation was set up. My colleagues and me got serious moneyed assistance from Ilya Glazunov. In 1976 I was called to KGB where they tried to persuade me to leave the country. I will tell you, me and my wife were tempted. But in a couple of weeks a job came across and the doubts were dismissed.

- On what charge were you imprisoned for the second time?

Formally for propaganda but actually for publishing my works abroad. Through all these years I continued writing. My job didn't give me any moral satisfaction and writing was a kind of rest. I was writing in the winter hut while I was in taiga and in the stoke-hold. In those years "The Third Truth" and "Departing" were written. I wrote "A Year of Wonder and Sorrow" anew - they took away the first version in Vladimir prison. Those works were published by "Posev". Besides, the leaders of "Posev" were selling translations of my works, which were published in France, England, Germany, Portugal.

- What was the sentence of the court?

Ten years of camps and five - of exile. Even if I had survived in the cell during the ten years, I would have died in exile for sure. Political criminals were sent to such awful places In 1985 I was sitting in one cell with the outstanding Ukrainian poet Vasil Stus. Soon he was transferred into an individual cell where he died. Details of his death are not known up until now. But I know for sure that it was in exile after the first term that Vasil's health was undermined. So I was doomed to die but in 1987 Gorbachev announced amnesty.

- The release was unexpected for you?

No. Rumors were circulating long before. Then I was transferred to Lefortovo where I sat for about two months. Already then it was clear that political prisoners were being released.

- You were probably full of hopes..?

No, I recognized the trouble time from the very beginning. Different people came to me and suggested that I should become a leader of different political parties, stand for the deputy post, but having clear understanding of the new turbulence period I declined all proposals. Though at that time in the circumstances I would have become a deputy for sure.

- At the beginning of perestroika many quite intelligent people had hope for the best. You seemed to be more far-looking because you were a historian who had studied Time of Troubles well?

May be. Though I haven't thought about it. I just understood that turbulence came. In 1990 the chief editor of "Moscow" magazine Vladimir Nikolaevich Krupin invited me to be the head of the department of prose. In two years I superseded him on the post of chief editor. The policy of the magazine was determined with relation to the political situation. In time of troubles one should stake not on the party or personality but only on the idea, and the statehood, better orthodox, should be the core of this idea. We understood how complicate this task was. The Russian statehood itself was under the threat, majority of the Russian citizens were atheists. But there couldn't be another creative idea.

- Despite your dissident past you did not conceal your spiritual closeness to the village writers first of all rather than to the dissidents.

In Soviet time I knew personally only my fellow countryman Valentin Grigorievich Rasputin. I preferred the village prose to all modern Russian literature as the most traditional. I liked and do like best of all "After the Storm" and "Commission" by Sergei Zalygin. I'm a conservator, in other works there were more or less attempts of modernization. Though I read everything, many works ("Sandro from Chegem" by Fazil Iskander, novels by Yuri Dombrovski) with great interest. I'm close spiritually to those people who love Russia. I can't have anything in common with those who consider it a historical misunderstanding. Many of those people behaved in the camps with dignity but for the future of Russia not the human sufferings are important but love for the motherland.

- In the beginning of 90s there were many appeals to all patriots to unite: red and white, orthodox and communists. Hasn't the patriotic movement deteriorated through such heterogeneity?

A difficult question. In 70s, when we realized that the underground was useless we faced the task of forming the consciousness of intelligentsia where the national would be in natural harmony with the orthodox. It was then when the heathenism became fashionable, the Book of Veles appeared, ideas that we were Aryans but Christianity made us deteriorate. The patriotic movement was non-Orthodox in general and that was its tragedy. Dostoevsky told that socialism was not right because God exists.

- Do you mean that the restoration of Orthodoxy is the principle condition of the rebirth of Russia?

The restoration is possible in different ways. But without Orthodoxy it will not be Russia.

- Is the restoration of monarchy feasible to your opinion?

If it is feasible it will not come soon.

- Shortly before his death Vadim Valerianovich Kozhinov told that before the restoration of monarchy one should think of the restoration of the people's religious consciousness.

I fully side with him. Monarchy is not the form of governing but the form of the people's being reflecting the peculiarities of its consciousness. In non-religious society only parody for monarchy can exist. In reality it will not be a tsar but a president without the right to be re-elected.

- In your magazine you have a permanent column "Family Church". Does this column aim at the religious rebirth?

It was created with this aim. It was started by Kroupin. Nowadays Sergei Ivanovich Nosenko is responsible for it - he is a deep believer but to my opinion too zealous. He's striving to dispute all the time either with catholics or with protestants or with Old Believers. I advise him: less struggle, more positiveness. But generally I try not to interfere with his work. He is a deeper believer than me.

- Judging by your works your path to God still continues?

I belong to the part of my generation who will not be able to fully enter into the church. Though even in the early seventies when the orthodox consciousness started awakening I recognized heresy faultlessly. I mean I learnt the orthodox logic, the logic of the Good News. But I haven't become the true church man. I go to church, confess, take part in the communion but not regularly.

- Do you want to say that the intellectual prevails over the heart?

I hope not over the heart. To be more exact I lack the interaction between the soul and the head. But I realize the danger when faith is substituted by ideology. Missionary activities are a pressing question today.

- What works can not be published in "Moscow" magazine?

Political vulgarity. No matter how little regard I have for Gaidar or Chubais I will never allow the authors to make rude remarks towards their appearance. Obscenity, kind of works by Victor Yerofeev, "Palisandria" by Sasha Sokolov. Though we have failures. In No.2 we published one work having not noticed banalities in it. We can overlook a talentless poem. Of course, we shouldn't have such things.

- Alexander Sergeevich Panarin with whom you shared the prize is the permanent author of your magazine.

He used to be published in "Novy Mir" ("New World" - translator's remark), but he gained the popularity after his publications in "Moscow". He doesn't conceal that he had passed through temptations of liberalism. Today he is one of the most talented political scientists and deserves the prize without doubt.

- What is your opinion about the prize-winners of the past years?

As I've already said we've been friends with Valentin Grigorievich Rasputin for more then twenty years. I treat him an outstanding writer and person. Yevgeny Ivanovich Nosov has been publishing his works only in our magazine lately. I didn't know Konstantin Vorobiev in person but value his prose very much. Inna Lisnyanskaya is without doubt an outstanding poetess. Probably I'd prefer another poet but I respect the choice of Alexander Isaevich. I'm not familiar with the works of academic Toporov but, again, I trust Solzhenitsyn.

- Nobel prize-winners have the right to propose their candidates for the Nobel prize. Could you propose future candidates for Solzhenytsyn prize?

Several names come to my mind at a time. Not to offend anybody I will not disclose the names. The only person whose name I can tell - the departed Dmitry Balashov. Had I appointed the prizes I would have given the very first prize to him. I learned deeper the Russian history through his novels. We were not close acquaintances, we met only at joint parties. I always felt embarrassed when sitting next to Dmitry Mikhailovich - so prominent his works were to my opinion.

- Vorobyev was awarded the prize posthumously.

Well, if Balashov is awarded the prize posthumously I will be glad.

- Are his works of high artistic level?

For me it is difficult to judge impartially. I am just reading them.

- Are they trustworthy from the historical point of view?

I didn't find any distortions in the periods which I know well. In other cases I just trusted him.

- What is your attitude to "Schizm" by Vladimir Lichutin?

"Schizm" is the demonstration of the former richness of the Russian language. It's impossible to read without a dictionary. Balashov also has rich language but his language is commensurate with the time. In the end of each novel there is a small vocabulary of unknown words. But these words are inserted into the novels with such a talent that one can guess their meaning without looking into the vocabulary. Nevertheless I consider "Schizm" a literary event.

- Do you side with the historical concept of Lichutin?

It is difficult to answer this question. For example, Slavophiles were of the opinion that the tragedy of Russia started with reforms made by Peter the Great. Some people think it started with the schizm. Also a third version exists - dispute between supporters of Iosif (Volotsky) and adherers of non-greediness. For sure somebody will look into the problem even deeper. There should be some limit! One can find arguments against Old Believers and against Nikon. But it's clear without it that the revolution is the result of the crisis of faith. Time of Troubles started in the end of the nineteenth century and has not still finished. In about two hundred years historians will consider it as one single period (Exactly like the seize of power by slaves in Ancient Egypt which resulted in their five hundred years' governing is considered today as one single period of revolt). I'm not against investigations by specialists of reasons of the tragedy. But it is more important to ascertain: crisis of faith has resulted in attempts made by Russians to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

- You were talking about the "former" richness of the language. Today the best linguists are talking not about richness but about degeneration, lowering of the language.

Lowering of the language is vulgarization of the society. After the second term I left for the Crimea to have a rest and took "Palisandria" by Sasha Sokolov with me. I was hiding it under the bed because had my neighbor looked into that book out of curiosity he would have taken me for a Sodomite.

- But this author started with "The School For Fools".

I heard that it is a good book but after "Palisandria" I can't read Sasha Sokolov. Exactly like I read in Brezhnev time "This is me - Edichka" and "Yawning hights" and since that time I'm not interested neither in Limonov nor in Zinovyev. I can admit that they are talented but can not overcome the disgust. In the camp not only we safeguarded the purity of the language but, for example, never played cards. It was a principle non-merging with the criminal world. Today the word "bespredel" (no limits and control - translator's remark) seems harmless to many people but it is pure criminal lexicology meaning absence of order in a cell.

- Why then the writers allow themselves to come down not only to jargon but to foul language?

Either the person understands he is talentless and can express himself only through extravagant actions, or he is talented but market-oriented. In our magazine quite a few young authors able to maintain the language level publish their works. Though their language is not that rich as in the village prose. It is an irreplaceable loss.

- With the exception of the political scientist Panarin the youngest prize-winners of Solzhenitsyn prize are Rasputin and you.

As far as I understand this prize is awarded for a sum of achievements. Rasputin is not only a writer. He did a lot for Baikal, and for the Church! I admire his work about Baikal. A publicistic work but what deepness, what language! Among the young I do not see worthy prize-winners so far. But there are interesting authors and I'm sure in some time some prominent literary work will appear.

- Once again I want to remind the idea of the departed Vadim Kozhinov. He said that the authentic synergy of art and Christianity is feasible only on the highest maturity level of the artist.

I take a more radical position on this issue. An attempt to comprehend the world through art is very risky. It is impossible to demand from literature and art to be orthodox. Then they are not needed. There is the main Book where everything's said. The rest is attempts to reproduce the Mystery of Creation through yourself. Generally they are vain but as a concept they can bring sound beginning. Not simply like works of art but as a way of broadening the soul striving to God. In this sense art can be considered positively.

- What are your expectations from the young people of our time?

I hope only for the reconstitution of the Russian state conscience. If it happens it will bring about positive results in everything: literature, music, culture of speech, economics; struggle with corruption, crime, prostitution, drug addiction...


The team of "Pravoslavie.Ru" especially congratulates Leonid Ivanovich Borodin on getting the high award of the Russian Orthodox Church - Order of St.Sergius of Radonezh.

Leonid Borodin was interviewed by Leonid Vinogradov
24th April 2002



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