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Ukraine

'You live as if Putin doesn’t exist'

Russian-born Wladimir Kaminer is a best-selling German author living in Berlin. In an interview with DW, he criticizes Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis and reflects on political disillusionment in his homeland.

DW: You recently posted a comment on Facebook in which you wrote (in German) that you're ashamed of your home country, Russia, which is following its president Putin in the conflict with Ukraine, essentially edging the world closer to warfare. Why did you do that?

Wladimir Kaminer: Good question. I usually hardly ever say politically motivated things. But when Russian tanks roll across the border, then everyone who feels responsible has to loudly state his or her opinion about what is happening. And I still feel responsible for what's happening in Russia.

You are known for your jokes and your humor - not just as an author. When did the conflict between Putin and the Kyiv government spoil the fun and laughter?

It's difficult to laugh about this. The comments that have been posted underneath my Facebook post show how confusing and incomplete the picture is that society has about the events in Ukraine. For me, it's not really about the situation in Ukraine. I think the Ukrainians will have to deal with it themselves. For me, it's about a Russian state practicing aggressive politics and warmongering, trying to profit from dishonest methods. For me, it's about saving Russia.

You are very hard on your Russian friends and fellow countrymen by saying they witness the tyranny and corruption in Russia, but they don't say anything. You say they would sacrifice their freedom as long as they continue to get cheap credit and apartments. Do you think Russians with their ideas about Putin can still be helped?

Yes, of course. I think since the crisis in Ukraine the Russian regime has given up on its last pretense of legitimacy. Since the 1990s - actually even before then - the Russians haven't cared about their own state anymore. That's a popular opinion among Russian intellectuals as well: "If we can't change anything about the direction of the statehood, then we simply live independently from it and keep minding our own business." You live as if this President Putin simply doesn't exist. But that doesn't work, especially not at a point when Russian tanks drive around outside of the Russian Federation.

What impact does that have?

It's astonishing how such a small man has managed to drive apart millions of people. Currently there are battles fought on all Internet platforms. Friends swear they'll be enemies forever. In every family, in every household, barricades are being built. My aunt is, for instance, very happy that Russians are conquering Crimea. My mother called me this morning and asked me not to say anything about political issues anymore - probably because she's worried that the tanks will make it to our home as well. My fellow countrymen write to me, saying, 'It's complete nonsense that the freedom of expression is limited in Russia.' But at the same time they tell me that I will definitely be arrested and sent beyond the Urals next time I visit Russia. They don't realize that that contradicts each other.

You decided to only play Ukrainian music at the latest "Russian Disco," a party where you usually play Russian music and that is, by now, also internationally known. It was held at the Berlin club "Kaffee Burger" last Saturday (08.03.2014). What were you hoping to achieve with this?

It's supposed to illustrate what I already wrote on Facebook: that Russians and Ukrainians are sister people who are close to each other and will not let each other down. And they will definitely help each other, but not with tanks. My friend and colleague Yuriy Gurzhy, with whom I am DJ'ing at the Russian Disco, is Russian but married to a Ukrainian woman. On Saturday, we took a stand for values that we've always proclaimed: solidarity, international aid, coexistence and an open world without weapons.

Kaminer's Russian Disco book and themed party of the same name was so popular, it was made into a movie, shown here in this still from 2012
Copyright: Stephan Rabold

Kaminer's popular "Russian Disco" book and themed party were made into a movie, above

Do you think other creative artists in Germany should comment on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine much more?

A lot of them are already doing that. As far as I am concerned, there are plenty of appeals to the Russian government that were signed by creative artists.

The New Riga Theater from Latvia has just cancelled all of their performances in Russia because of the conflict with Ukraine. Should theater and dance groups in Germany act similarly and instead go to perform in Ukraine? Or would that be asking too much?

I think such a cultural boycott would be the wrong decision. It would hit the people who don't deserve it. I don't think the people who are driving Russia into ruin go to the theater. On the contrary, you should try to talk to the people on all levels and hold a mirror up to them, so that they see how they are now perceived worldwide.

As you are unexpectedly turning into a Russia-Ukraine expert now - how do you think this conflict will continue?

I think Putin has read my comment on Facebook and is now trying to figure out the quickest way to have his tanks return to the barracks. But he's in an awkward position now. He can't go forward because the world doesn't understand why and won't accept it. But he can't really back-pedal either because he has incited the warmongering in his own country with 24-hour TV channels. Then his followers will say: "You're not a real man. When it comes to war, real men don't do things halfway." I think only Angela Merkel can help him now to get out of this situation without completely losing face. I don't know how she'll do that, but she's a reasonable decision-maker who can give him valid advice.

Wladimir Kaminer (born in 1967) is a Russian-born German writer. He's been living in Berlin since 1990. His short stories and novels are bestsellers in Germany. He humorously writes about his experience as a Russian who immigrated to Germany. At the beginning of March he commented on the situation in Ukraine and the actions of the Russian government ("I am ashamed for my home country") and announced he would only play Ukrainian music at his legendary party event "Russian Disco," which was held at the Berlin club "Kaffee Burger" on Saturday (08.03.2014).

The interview was conducted by Klaudia Prevezanos.

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