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Chernobyl, war and the meaning of life: Nobel Prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich in 5 questions

Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich visited the DW studio in Germany. The Nobel Prize winner admitted she'd rather have more time to herself and explained what life is all about.

Svetlana Alexievich, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in December 2015, has been lauded for her unique, and often harrowing, insights into life behind the Iron Curtain. Her works are often the result of years of personal interviews with witnesses of historical events, from World War II to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

DW's Efim Schumann and Margarita Kalz spoke with Svetlana Alexievich in Bonn. Here are five highlights from the interview.

How life has changed after the Nobel Prize

"I no longer have free time. That's very sad because I tend to be a lone wolf and spend a lot of time at my desk. I would rather sit and write quietly and think. Being in the public eye is easy for me because I come from a family of four generations of teachers so I'm used to being around books and discussions. But to write, I very much need to be alone.

The other thing that's changed is that my words now carry a lot more weight."

The significance of Chernobyl 30 years on

"All of my friends who have passed away in the last 10 years died of cancer. And literally not a single day goes by that I don't hear from one acquaintance or another that someone else has gotten sick or passed away. Many experts predicted that from the very beginning just after the accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl [Eds.: On April 26, 1986]. The experts said then that there would be a quick wave of deaths, and that afterwards the reaction to small amounts of radiation would begin - to the radiation that we drink, eat and inhale. That is happening now. For that reason, we cannot say that we are living in a post-Chernobyl era. We are living in the middle of the Chernobyl era, which will last for a very long time."

On the development of democracy in the former East Bloc

"It would be naïve to believe that democracy would only come about if we went onto the street and shouted, 'Freedom! Freedom!'"

On alternatives to war

"I cannot understand how someone can claim to right to kill another person. That is barbaric. I believe that in the 21st century we should arm ourselves with ideas. We should negotiate with each other - and not kill. But we keep killing. That's because the 20th century has not yet ended. According to the calendar, it has, of course, but not in our minds. We are still those people from the 20th century. We have not changed."

On current projects and the meaning of life

I am too exhausted today to travel to a war site and write about war. I can no longer bear to see this human madness. I have used up all my reserves to resist this pain.

But a person's social environment or ideas are not the only things that influence a person's being. There is more. What is life about? Two things: love and death. That's why I am now thinking about writing two books: one about love and one about ageing.

Take a look back at Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize win:

Watch video 02:13

Svetlana Alexievich wins Nobel Literature Prize

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