A conversation with Dmitry Glukhovsky, the first major cultural figure wanted by the Russian government 

Dmitry Glukhovsky. Credit: Juergen Schwarz/Alamy Live News

Since last Tuesday, Russia placed Dmitry Glukhovsky, a popular science fiction writer best known for the novel "Metro 2033", on its wanted list after accusing him of spreading false information about its military intervention in Ukraine. Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of “Novaya Gazeta Europe”, interviewed the first major cultural figure to be put on the wanted list due to the new law adopted days after Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February, 24th.

Martynov: This is the first time I talk to a wanted writer. What are your thoughts on being on the wanted list?

Glukhovsky: This situation was predictable. If, like me, you tell everyone that the country is inevitably heading towards a Soviet regime, you have to bear in mind the lessons of that period. You must also be prepared for the fact that when society moves from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, opponents need to disappear. Especially among those who claim to understand the situation. For the current Russian State, everyone should stand in formation, salute the leader like during Hitler times and glorify his infinite wisdom. And those expressing any doubts should be flogged exemplarily — as in my case.

Martynov: Some say that a Russian writer without State persecution is not a writer. Any actual writer should have a criminal case or have fled the country. What do make of this?

Glukhovsky: I found out that a criminal case had been opened against me by accident. The authorities didn’t summon me to appear in court. During the trial, they assigned me a lawyer who, of course, wasn't very diligent. A week later, when the case was closed, they started looking for me. Only then did I discover how serious this was.

The authorities are wrong to prosecute people for what they say, because by doing so, they just give them extra credibility.

Martynov: Where do you think this division in Russian culture between the loyalists and the anti-war can lead?

Glukhovsky: So far, the loyalist culture looks very flawed. The cultural content is completely obsolete and produced by a group of people completely dependent on the State. This simply creates a sense of stagnation in music, fine arts, movies and TV.

On the other hand, there are a huge number of people who immediately and unequivocally spoke out against the war. It is worth recalling that in the very first days of the war, some 2,000 cultural and intellectual figures, including scientists, signed an anti-war open letter. In other words, the initial impulse of the society was unequivocally against this-war. The government then ignited militaristic hysteria, labelling anyone who disagreed with the war a national traitor.

But what is more patriotic than wishing one's country peace and prosperity? The authorities only succeeded in silencing these voices through a campaign of intimidation. People started to leave, and if they didn't have a chance to do so, they developed a survival strategy in a country descending into totalitarianism. As the grip tightens, people are starting to bring their conscience and convictions in line with what will help them to survive in this country in the future. Now, even intelligent or informed people accept arguments like: “It's not all so unambiguous”, “Zelensky is special too. He's a poser, a junkie”, “We're not fighting Ukraine, we're fighting NATO”.

Because of the worsening economic situation, I think that soon, keeping quiet won’t be enough for the Russian people.

Martynov: You very rightly pointed out that the official cultural production is trying to stop time. Aren't you afraid that this will simply overtake Russia, and that any other alternative will be punished?

Glukhovsky: Obviously, efforts will be made in this direction. This culture of officiousness, of embracing State militarism — fascism actually, and justifying this senseless and brutal war, will give birth to nothing. These people can't produce anything brilliant because they work for money, they pretend to be patriots because they get paid for it.

Of course, the State can ban any alternative, but I want to point out that everything alive in Russian culture is happening on YouTube right now.

From my point of view, the main thing to remember in this situation is that there is still truth and justice. Even when your country unleashes a war for no good reason against a neighbouring state that used to be brotherly, where people speak and think in the same language as you do, where many people (like almost all of my Ukrainian friends) bear Russian names and surnames and have never even learned the Ukrainian language or been discriminated against until the «Russian world» came to them in tanks.

It is obvious that this war is not righteous. And we must remember how hard the authorities tried to justify this war, inventing hardly believable reasons like Nazis, biolaboratories, or virus-ridden pigeons. And the most important thing now is to preserve yourself and remain human in the most dreadful situation.

Kirill Martynov, editor-in-chief of “Novaya Gazeta Europe”