As the German election draws closer, campainging politicians must remember that many Russians have a close relationship to Germany. But Germany must not sell itself short, Russian writer Victor Yerofeyev pleads.
Unlike other western European countries, Germany is historically comprehensible to Russians. The German mentality is similar to ours, yet we are unable to access it. Sometimes it seems to us that we really could be almost like Germans if only we finally started a new life, abjured our bad habits, really made an effort.
Nonetheless, our inability to start a new life in no way signifies a break with Germany. If anything, the break is an internal Russian one. Germany is with us in every possible form, from old German quarters in Russian cities to the German princesses who were married to Russian tsars; from Bach to Hitler; from legendary German cars to children's games.
Against this historical backdrop, the Germany of today presents itself as a pacifist country with a fearful face: Oh God, please don't let anything bad happen! Never get involved in any scandal or drawn into any regional war! Always listen to the good impulses of the soul and steer clear of the forces of evil.
Germany bears the hallmarks of chronic tension. Germans seem to be concealing a pain somewhere deep within themselves. And this phantom pain resides in the German soul. It makes it vulnerable, and also, sometimes, quite cowardly.
Hoping for a win for democracy
I have a very close relationship with Germany. Many of my books have been published in German, and there is a great deal connecting me to the country. This is why I really do look at the upcoming German elections with concern. What direction will this country take?
I would like to see a clever democracy win in Germany — a democracy that is capable of defending itself, thereby remaining open to the world and its many-faceted cultures.
Now, with the world sinking once more into the atmosphere of the Cold War, I would like to see Germans stop suffering from the "childhood sickness" of anti-Americanism. Naturally, the Kremlin is rubbing its hands in glee at the constantly recurring episodes of this sickness.
I would like to see people with a greater zest for life to come to power in Germany. People who are not only capable of working and overcoming difficulties, but also of jumping for joy with the same enthusiasm they bring to their work. I do know people like this in Germany – but their relationship with those in power is a rather distant one.
Germany is a strong, modern country. I have met scientists and artists there, creative people at the highest level, who need not shy away from international comparison. Germany should present itself more cheerfully, as a country with highly motivated students (I have taught at the Free University in Berlin, and I know what I'm talking about), with brilliant journalists, professors, socially engaged people, all those who are capable of discussing and defending their position.
Russian artists are defending its values
Unfortunately, a Russian living in a little town somewhere in the middle of nowhere who has never actually been to Germany only encounters the country via Russian television. Since the Crimea crisis, state broadcasters have been working flat out to make the whole of Europe, including Germany, look like a fake, phoney paradise. In Moscow and in the countryside you see bumper stickers on cars with solutions like "On to Berlin!" or "We can do it again!" These unhappy people with brains stuffed full of propaganda are confusing past and present.
But we would like the politicians who will form the German government after September 24 to understand that Russia's best creative artists are defending its fundamental values — and they are the values of great Russian literature, not those propounded by the Kremlin's propaganda machines. This is why Russian artists are also being beaten up, as in the current case of the stage and film director Kirill Serebrennikov. Culture, however, is precisely what provides Russia and Germany with the opportunity to draw closer and understand one another. If not now, then in the not-too-distant future.
Victor Yerofeyev is a Russian writer and literary critic whose numerous works have been translated into German and French, among other languages. He was banned from the Union of Soviet Writers from 1979 to 1988 for taking part in an underground literary publication. He currently lives in Moscow and contributes to Russian TV as well as Radio Liberty.