Since 2018, SlovoNovo has been an annual forum, held in Montenegro, bringing together Russian-speaking writers, artists, musicians, journalists and businessmen from all over the world. Its artistic director is Marat Gelman, a contemporary Russian art collector, gallery owner, organizer of cultural events, who himself resides in Montenegro. In her open letter to him, Russian artist and essayist Katya Margulis explains her decision not to participate in the forum as long as blood is flowing in Ukraine.
Dear participants, organizers and sponsors of the SlovoNovo-2022 Russian Culture Forum,
This letter is not just a formality. You really mean a lot to me, like everything you do in these trying times, and I hope all of you present can embrace each other. Unfortunately, I don’t see how I can find you in Montenegro while Russia is waging this brutal war in Ukraine. I cannot imagine leaving my comfortable hotel room in the morning for breakfast by the sea before discussing pressing issues of Russian culture, and in the evening, listening to a sumptuous array of great music or anti-war interventions. I would be uncomfortable if you opened my exhibition “Tseglina: Sorokiviny”, with a cup in my hand, which deals with silence, loss, horror, and the ruins of war. I think it would be much better to open this exhibition without me, with a minute of silence. Or not open at all.
Of course, I am sorry for not finding people dear to me. I will not hear the wonderful and impressive new verses of Vera Pavlova, and our conversations about the waves will have to be postponed until after the war.
I wanted to see and hear Ludmila Oulitskaïa, a friend of our family, whose human and measured voice will not fail to bring a new dimension to any discussion.
I was eager to hear (and hope to be able to hear them, if only on the tape) of Alexander Morozov’s subtle, penetrating, unexpected and always paradoxical reflections.
I will not hear the new and wonderful texts of Alexander Delvinov, full of energy and vitality. Nor the soft and deep verses of Katja Kapovich. I will not be interviewing Vitaly Mansky, nor will I see his wonderful new documentaries. I won’t hear Anton Doolin talk about cinema. And I will surely miss and will miss many other things.
Je regrette infiniment de ne pas pouvoir être là quand mon ami de longue date, mon ami très cher, l’écrivain Mikhaïl Chichkine, lira en mon absence quelque chose de nouveau sur mon ancêtre, le grand compositeur Sergueï Rachmaninovè, dont ma soigneusement chez nous les affaires, tandis que les paysages représentant le domaine familial incendié après la révolution, accrochés aux murs de notre maison, font partie de mon paysage intérieur et de mon histoire é cédiée aprèsé mété a catrochés aux murs de notre maison my birth. The wonderful Polina Ossetinskaya will perform some of her work during the forum, but unfortunately I will not be able to hear her.
I will miss reading the new play by Ivan Verebayev, and I will not see Chulpan Khamatova: another war that brought us together many years ago, the war against cancer waged by sick, bald soldiers and their mothers in the Russian cancer services. A hidden war for the life and future of each of these irreplaceable beings took place in the corridors and hospital rooms, behind the windows of sterile rooms. They were dozens. We became friends, got medicine for them, drew and organized performances, made dolls with ribbons and syringes, made collages with cardboard boxes of expensive medicines that we managed to get thanks to the tireless work of volunteers and philanthropists, and of course thanks to the dedication and spontaneity of Tchoulpan, who personally lived the story of each family. Crossing the threshold of the hospital, we left the quiet of our daily lives to find ourselves in the foreground, where it was only a matter of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, where every day could be the last or, on the contrary, to bring hope, where art was not a pastime Nor a delicacy, but the bread of life. We spent nights in the hospital kitchen listening to mothers and learning things about our poor and terrible country that we would never have known if we had continued to live in our culture bubble. Not all of them returned from this war but we remember each one by name. They taught us things that we did not learn in art schools and universities. I will be forever grateful to them for these encounters.
I have faith in people, especially in free youth, who have no iron curtain in their eyes, no boundaries in their hearts, no checkpoints in their heads. This is why I place special hope on education. Autumn arrives, a new school year begins, and the war continues. The instructions and discussion on education – from primary to university – that will be held during this forum, are more topical than ever.
I have been studying at the Free Online University for three years and I am glad to see that one of the founders of this university, Kirill Martynov, will talk about it during the forum. I had the opportunity to teach students who live in Barnaul and Izhevsk, in the depths of the taiga, Berlin, Cambodia, Tbilisi, Moscow, Rome, Saint Petersburg, Daugavpils, Minsk and Tomsk. Over the past six months, I have received letters and assignments from students who have come under fire in Kyiv, Dnipro, around Kharkiv, at roadblocks, at airports and checkpoints. Today with students from the Faculty of Mass Communication of the Free University we are preparing an anti-war calendar, and I hope that these brave and talented young people, who speak Russian but not only Russian, far from there, will be part of the free world and will be able to tell their children and grandchildren about that time, that they will not hear Once again, the sound of approaching shells, the sounds of explosions, and air sirens.
Slovo Novo Festival. Photo: Marat Gilman
Slovo Novo Festival. Photo: Marat Gilman
Other topics and topics of the announced round tables of this forum are by no means alien to me and I think it is important to discuss them with the Russian diaspora and with those who chose or were forced to remain in Russia. I thank Marat Gilman for the perseverance with which he makes this forum both personal and shared, just as he sees it. I especially thank my friend Evguenia Chichkina, forum manager, for the amazing substantive and organizational work done, and the ingenuity and attention I paid to each of them.
A human conversation in Russian is necessary today. It is necessary to find new words and new meanings for old words that seem to have lost their meaning since the outbreak of this war. But above all, it seems to me that it is important to make the effort to listen and listen again, and look and consider, rather than repeat. I wish each of us to be open to learning how to look at ourselves and what we do critically, and to be willing to reconsider, or look from a new angle, which only yesterday seemed unchangeable or self-evident.
I would certainly have participated in the round table on the colonization and imperialism of Russian culture. I really hope to live long enough to witness the collapse of the empire, and see that moment when the term “Russian” will be modest but not infamous, and the term “great” will seem trivial and funny. I do not believe, in the present state of mind, in the state of corruption in which souls find themselves, in the beautiful future Russia; I eagerly wish that Russia cease to exist in its present and past imperial form, which does not prevent me from greatly respecting and esteeming all those who today are ready to sacrifice their lives and freedom for the sake of their fellow countrymen, friends and foes, for what they believe in and what they see as their calling. And, of course, I wish all of us to live long enough to see in The Hague not only those who ordered and carried out these crimes, but also all those who, using words from my mother tongue, called for murder since television screens, computers, smartphones, book pages and newspapers.
I wish for all of us, deep down in our hearts, to live long enough to witness the moment when we no longer have to be ashamed of our language. In time we can use it to ask for forgiveness because we surrendered to killers, voluntarily or without it.
Guilt is heading towards the past. Responsibility towards the future.
The only bridge between the two is meditation and repentance. And this, as we know, could take years.
I hope my letter will not be seen as an insult or reproach. We are all different. Not only as artists and authors, but also as human beings. But we all know how important it is to listen to your inner voice and not lie to yourself, especially during difficult and turbulent times.
Once again, I warmly thank the organizers, sponsors, and inspiration for the Forum for their invitation. If you think it is possible, I will open the exhibition from afar, in silence, in memory of the dead and wounded, and I will participate from a distance in discussions on the subjects most important to me. (Basically, this style of live broadcasting seems to me more appropriate today: less elite and more social.) Otherwise, I think my absence would not be particularly noticeable: there are many outstanding and distinguished participants in this forum. I will wait for the peace times, do my best to bring them closer, and hope to see you again someday if you still believe that my voice and my view can be useful and necessary.
Today, when hundreds and thousands of people lose their homes, loved ones, health and life before our eyes, I consider it an honor and happiness to remain calm at home, and I sincerely wish that all means were generously made available for my coming and participation in the SlovoNovo-2022 Russian Culture Forum will be devoted to helping the Ukrainian troops.
May it be a drop in the sea capable of defeating evil.
This evil, which today is loudly and clearly expressed in Russian before the whole world.
Thank you all for showing, through your work, that this evil is not the only one who speaks Russian.
I wish your forum every success!
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!
good for you,
Katya (Ekaterina) Margolis
Venice, August 28, 2022
The original version is on the author’s Facebook page.
Translated from Russian by Fabian Le Calier.
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