Belarussian Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexievich said on Wednesday it should be no surprise that the Russian people have allowed an authoritarian figure like President Vladimir Putin to take control because the country has no real tradition of democracy.
Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year for her works that portray the hardships of life in the Soviet Union through the eyes of everyday people, said at a Dublin literary festival that when communism collapsed “everybody waited for this tsar who would bring this democracy to us”.
It was not right to “demonise” Putin, she said. “Okay, he thinks he’s a messiah,” she said, but added that Putin and his administration were simply a manifestation of “the collective moods of millions and millions of people”.
Alexievich spoke at Dublin’s annual International Literature Festival to a sold-out house which cheered when she entered the lecture hall/theatre at Trinity College where the  event was held, and gave her a standing ovation when she concluded.
She said she is frequently criticised within Russian for her books that have focused on the lives of Russian women during World War Two, the impact on ordinary people of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Russian military entanglement in Afghanistan.
“They say I’m a traitor, I’m a Russophobe, and they say my Nobel prize is my reward for betrayal,” she said in remarks translated into English at the festival, which said the public talk was Alexievich’s first in Western Europe.
But she said that on television and in the Russian media “we are returning to the same old rhetoric”.
She said that was why she had entitled her latest book,  about the collapse of the Soviet Union,  “Second-Hand Time”.   — Michael Roddy