A Russian Winter


I can’’t understand why Russia’’s turning off the gas taps sent such shockwaves through all of Europe and why even the leaders of the Old World could not understand what made the strapping, rosy-cheeked Gazprom managers take such a brutal decision. In actual fact, it’’s clearer than the Moscow and St. Petersburg sun. It’’s yet another inevitable step in the inexorable quest to promote Russia’’s unique culture around the world.

A freezing calm

In the early nineties the ungrateful European countries, including Czecho-Slovakia, expelled from their territories the Russian army which had been promoting peace and understanding among nations for twenty years.

The Russian army’’s presence ensured that Russian music and poetry was ceaselessly broadcast by the media, Russian films played in all the cinemas, publishers brought out Russian books and theatres staged Russian plays. Those times are over, never to return. In addition, much of the population regarded Russians as a completely alien element and were highly suspicious of them. The time has come for radical action.

Theoreticians agree that nothing beats the personal experience of art, in the flesh, so to speak. That is why it has become necessary to apply the old but reliable strategy which has paid off on numerous occasions in history and which was started by the legendary general Kutuzov who used it in his war with Napoleon. Freeze them out!

European homes will soon be enveloped in a freezing calm, typical of the way the perceptive and sensitive Russian people live.  Electricity lines will soon collapse from the overuse of electric heaters. Computer screens will go blank, cutting us off from e-mail and Facebook.  Power will be turned off, creating ideal conditions for the promotion of authentic Russian culture.

European citizens, in their winter coats and by candlelight, will finally turn to Russian literature, which they have shamefully neglected. If they feel they can no longer stand the cold in their homes, they will take heart from the pages of the books. No-one can beat the chill you find in Russian classics. Sometimes the snow in Eugene Onegin, Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago falls so hard the reader needs a scraper to be able to discern the letters on the page. And the kind of frost you read about in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich or Gulag Archipelago is beyond our imagination. It’s quite normal for it to be minus forty outside, and the inside of the zemlyankas or yurts is not much warmer either. It’s an atmosphere that is ideally suited to getting all those who have succumbed to destructive Western influences to search their conscience!

A stroke of luck

But there’s no need to worry about our new situation. After all, Dostoyevsky said it all: Siberia, forced labour – oh what a stroke of luck it was for me! People say it is horrendous, outrageous, they talk of righteous indignation … what shameless folly! It was only there that I started living a healthy, happy life, it was there that I came to understand myself… Jesus Christ… the Russian man. What a noble and typically Russian attitude, and one that will now be embraced abroad as well!

And should someone still complain about having cold feet, they can keep warm by playing music at home with friends and family as part of the renewal of the tradition of meetings around the samovar. They will find plenty of freezing winter themes in music by Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov and many other composers. The more adventurous among those suffering from the cold can try out a few ballet moves and pirouettes. And if that’s not enough, there’’s always Sorokin’’s novel The Ice. Although a word of warning is required here about this sinister thriller about a mysterious international icy fraternity: it is ideologically inappropriate. In 2002 the pro-Putin youth movement Idushchie vmeste (Fellow-travellers) organized a public burning of the author’s book in front of the Bolshoi Teatr, the russofiles’‘ favourite location.

Not until it gets as cold as in a Russian film will Europeans understand the mysteries of the Russian soul that have mystified and excited them since the Enlightenment. That is why it is difficult to understand the negative attitude of the European Union to the scheme of its spiritual renewal soon after the gas stopped flowing. However, Russia’s and Ukraine’’s intransigency give us hope that this magnificent plan will be put into force once again, as soon as the temperatures drop.

As the hero of Notes from the Underground says: To put it briefly, one can say about the world’’s history whatever one’s disturbed imagination suggests, except for one thing – that it makes sense. Does this give grounds for despair? The answer can be found in another Russian classic, by Anton Chekhov, in the closing lines of his Three Sisters:  There will come a time when everybody will know why, for what purpose, there is all this suffering.

Translation: Julia Sherwood

This article was originally published in Slovak in the Fórum, the Saturday supplement of the daily SME on 17 January  2009.

We are grateful to Michal Hvorecký for the permission to publish this text in English.