Swedish author Jangfeldt: Russia must deal with its past to face its future.


Biographer Bengt

Bengt Jangfeldt – the eminent Swedish author of recent books on Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, World War II Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg, and Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky – talks to Russia about Russians in a great interview for Novaya Gazeta a week ago here. We’ve written about Bengt before here and here and here. The only problem is: the new interview is in Russian. With trepidation, I offer a translation of a few excerpts below:


“Friendship with China – it’s perfect for Russia, but … this is not the past of Russian culture nor its future. Russia and the West have  interconnected cultural values. This relationship is inevitable.”


jangfeldt“Russia, unlike in Germany, did not deal with its past. Wallenberg is just one of the many victims of the Stalinist terror and the Soviet regime. To understand this fact today is not very easy: the archives are still not readily available, and because of this, these books are always relevant. I think that Russia will have difficulty moving forward without such proceedings. It’s like a stone that pulls downward. For example, the recent history with ‘Memorial’ suggests that this problem still affects the life of the country.”


“I once had a conversation with Brodsky about Russia, we often talked about it. It was in the 90s. And Brodsky made the following statement: ‘Do not underestimate the inferiority complex of my former fellow citizens.'”



He took the bait.

Jangfeldt: “To take one striking example of his [Mayakovsky’s] life, when he changed his attitude to the Soviet regime and the Soviet regime to him. It happened in the winter of 1922, when Lenin said of his poem ‘Prozasedavshiesya’: ‘As for poetry, I do not know, but from a political point of view, it’s good’ – and Mayakovsky was very happy. It would be impossible for us. If someone said to me: ‘You know, the Prime Minister is very fond of your book, and so now we are going to print large runs of it’ – that would be terrible!

Inteviewer: Why is that awful?

Jangfeldt: Because he should not play any role either in my life or in the life of the publisher.”


Read the rest – either in Russian or with Google Translate – here. (And a hat tip to Andrius Katilius for the article.)

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One Response to “Swedish author Jangfeldt: Russia must deal with its past to face its future.”

  1. Maureen Coffey Says:

    The current Russian reaction certainly has little to do with an inferiority complex (maybe it compounds the following but is not the cause of it). Russia has been encircled by NATO despite being promised otherwise in 1988 to 1980 by the other former allies in the talks, amongst other things, about German re-unification. Then -from Russia’s viewpoint- it has done with the Crimea as Theodore Roosevelt said about self-determination during the First World war (but never followed through on it) and it has reacted rather calmly to sanctions that some other hot-head in the past might have seen as a “casus belli”. Currently, while oil prices fall, these developments are likely to hurt the US (and its overleveraged fracking industry) and Saudi Arabia (which needs 80 dollars per barrel to balance its budget) more than Russia. And while the west seems to rejoice that the ruble is in “free fall”, not so long ago the US threatened China with sanctions because it allegedly undervalued its currency and maintained that this gave it an unfair trade advantage. When it comes to Russia everything that happens is painted as a “victory” for the West. This blindness can badly misfire when all of a sudden Europe is out of gas …