Translation: Vladislav Surkov – “I Was by a Great Man’s Side” (part 2)

The continuation of Surkov’s interview (2/2) with Andrei Kolesnikov, in which he expounds on the meaning of friendship, leisure, love for the fatherland, and life itself. See part 1 here.

Vladislav Surkov: “I Was by a Great Man’s Side” Part II

Russian Pioneer’s regular columnist Vladislav Surkov has, at the request of RP’s editor in chief Andrey Kolesnikov, broken his three months of silence after his retirement from the Vice Prime Minister position, and told us what constitutes life.

AK: Did you find a job?

VS: So far I’ve been freelancing.

AK: You said that you want to write a political comedy. How is it going?

VS: It was just a joke.

AK: What are your creative plans?

VS: My way of life is changing. There’s a lot of creativity in that.

AK: Has anything of other people’s creative works made any impression on you these past three months?

VS: Just recently I was greatly honored when they showed me Fedor Bondarchuk’s movie “Stalingrad”, as they say, “on the cutting desk”. It’s not completed yet. But what I saw was awesome. If the sketch looks like that, I have a foreboding of a masterpiece. For the first time, in the modern movie language, Russia will tell you the story of its pain and of its invincibility. You can make a movie like that when you have love. When you love yourself, your people, and your country. And there’s compassion, there’s rapture. Well, I can talk about it longer than the movie itself… You have to watch it.

AK: What about books? Exhibits?

VS: Dubovitskiy’s “Mashinka i velik” — I think it’s the last book that I read in my life. I won’t read anything else. I can’t. I start, then I stop. The others don’t compare. I’ve been like this for two years now. It ran me over, it turned me inside out. But really, maybe I’ve done enough reading already? Am I supposed to keep reading for the rest of my life? Maybe I should quit it? Like I quit smoking. So I can only recommend “Mashinka”. It’s about everything. That is, it’s about love. I can recommend it to anyone whose brain has cracked. As for exhibits, what about them…? I was in Hearst’s house. Hearst is still good. [tl note: No idea who he’s talking about, it’s my best guess at this point]

AK: Do you have friends? Do you make friends easily? Lose them?

VS: To me, the word “friend” is overloaded with heavy romantic meaning. There’s something old fashioned, totalitarian in friendship. All of a sudden someone declares you to be a friend, and now it’s as if you owe them this, and that… How come, dare I ask? I prefer contractual relationships. They’re precise and can be broken up through mutual agreement and without any emotions. But I have friends anyway. Old ones. Two. Or three. I haven’t acquired any new ones. What for? There are too few good people around as it is.

AK: This isn’t about any personal subjects. Are we going in the right direction?

VS: Social physics always provides for several development options. Each with a different probability. Russia has picked the most probable option. That’s normal. Of course, there’s a theory that certain important things on Earth, life, for example, appeared as a result of the least probable, almost impossible scenario. But it’s just a hypothesis. But here we have specifics, problems, communal, social services… Some need to get out of poverty, others need to decently spend billions. It’s too early to experiment on us. Too early to shake us. We need to stay this way for a while. So that we can finally coalesce into something useful and whole.

AK: But don’t our hearts demand changes? {Translator’s note: Reference to lyrics of an old song}

VS: They do, I can’t deny it. There’s something mind-numbingly monotonous in this obsession with changes. When a person has nothing to look at inside himself, he stares out the window. Hoping to see a fight. Or he goes to the circus. Nowadays, changes are routine and we’re so accustomed to them that they only make us bored. I can better understand the meaning behind technological innovations. New construction materials, medicines, machines. It’s clear what they’re for. But changes in general… I mean, when you fly on a plane, you don’t climb out with a hacksaw onto the wing in order to fix it…

AK: That’s about society in general. How do you appraise the political system?

VS: I’ve appraised it recently. In May. I have nothing to add.

AK: What do you think of Skolkovo?

VS: My position on Skolkovo hasn’t changed either. I can only reiterate what I said in May (On May 1 in London -AK) and earlier. Let’s assume that I’ve reiterated that.

AK: What’s your biggest gain in the past few years?

VS: That I was by the side of a great man.

AK: Which one of them?

VS: You saw him. And he saw you.

AK: What about the biggest loss?

VS: I can’t say that in public.

AK: Your biggest human sin?

VS: That a child’s tear was spilled.

AK: What are you tired of?

VS: I’m not tired.

AK: Where would you like to live?

VS: Where I live. Here and now. In Russia, if you’re asking about geography. Of course, many love Russia these days. Not like in the 80s or 90s. Many were self-conscious back then. Now things are different. There are now instructions on how to love it, and for what. It’s fashionable. I mean, Rublyovkas, birch trees… And an oil well under every birch tree. How can you not love that!?

My story is different. When I was little, I fell from a bicycle in the countryside. That’s when I fell in love. Not because I hit my head. It wasn’t my head that I hit, actually. It’s just that when I was lying on the ground, I felt my homogeneity with it. That is, as one poet said, and I forgot who, “If people are made of clay, then I’m made of that Ryazan’ loam”. This very homogeneity is my patriotism.

AK: If a person decides to improve himself, where should he start? And where should he end?

VS: Given our age, it’s better to start with a medical exam. And end with it as well. Those who are younger should do a stress test. Put yourself in a difficult situation. An unbearable one. Or at least in a stupid one, if you’re scared. Stay in that situation for as long as possible. Then come out of it. And then look at what’s left of yourself. Most likely, not much will be left. But that very thing will be you. So, get to it.

AK: What should novice politicians study?

VS: Novices should start with something non-political. For example, with urban geography. Government is the business of cities. Politics, civilization, all come from the term for “city”. So start with Weber’s “The City”. It was Glazychev who was pushing me toward urban geography. A long time ago. You also need to know zoology. So that you don’t descend into pollyannish thinking. Because beastly atrocities happen in politics. But before that, you have to study yourself: do you feel the nation’s pain? Do you pity the weak? Do you fear the strong? That’s the state exam.

AK: Lately, people around me have started asking each other what to do about their loneliness.

VS: They should try calling it freedom.

AK: Can work be the meaning of life?

VS: Of course not.

AK: Do you work a lot yourself?

VS: As much as needed. Usually, it’s quite a lot.

AK: What’s a good way to rest?

VS: You shouldn’t rest. Kick the habit.

AK: I’ve been wanting to ask this for a while: Will there be World War 3?

VS: Henry Ford, and not just him, claimed after World War 1 that there wouldn’t be any great wars anymore because everyone saw what hell it was. Nevertheless, there turned up some enthusiasts willing to rummage ever deeper in hell. Then there appeared thermonuclear optimists who said that war wouldn’t happen due to fear of mutual destruction. They said it’s all thanks to the atom bomb. Then there appeared even more optimistic theorists of a safe victorious nuclear conflict limited in time and space. Now there’s a theory out there about the possibility of victory over a nuclear nation through non-nuclear means. They say it’s thanks to high precision munitions. As we can see, optimism grows.

AK: Last question. Is life meaningless?

VS: Are you messing with me?

AK: No. Seriously. I swear it bugs me.

VS: I suppose life the way humanity sees it now is meaningless overall. Of course, everyone acts brave and doesn’t admit to it, they all emit cheerfulness — that we live for this, or for that, for some other thing. But they’re uneasy deep inside their hearts — it all feels wrong… It’s because each human being isn’t for himself. He’s figured out that it’s not about him. But he doesn’t know what it’s about. It is said that we see as if through a glass, darkly. But afterwards, we will see clearly. So our cause isn’t lost. We’ll see the meaning too.

The full version of the conversation will be published in the September issue of the Russian Pioneer magazine.