Sasha Filipenko: 'The Russian Language Is Not Russia's Property'

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) Pусский (ru) «русский язык не принадлежит одной лишь россии» (original)

SWI You often say that Europe has ' abandoned' Belarus. Has the war in Ukraine changed that in any way?

Sasha Filipenko: There is no such country as Belarus on the European agenda. I was giving a speech in Geneva recently, and a Swiss journalist said to me, 'What right do you have to talk about Belarus in view of what is going on in Ukraine?'

We all are concerned about what is happening in Ukraine. We want the war to end immediately. We want Ukraine to win, but that does not change the fact that right now nine million people in the centre of Europe actually remain hostages [to President Alexander Lukashenko's policies]. In 2020, during the anti-government protests, everyone admired the Belarusians. Now, suddenly we have turned into co-aggressors.

Ukrainian politicians do not recognise Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya [Belarusian opposition candidate in the rigged presidential elections of 2020, who lives in exile in Lithuania]. But some of them recognise Lukashenko when it suits their interests, while saying that Belarusians should be more pro-Ukrainian.

Sasha Filipenko

Sasha Filipenko was born on July 12, 1984, in Minsk, Belarus. He moved to Russia and studied in St Petersburg, where he worked as scriptwriter for several TV shows.

After publishing several critical articles about the Lukashenko regime in 2020 in the Western press, he decided to leave Russia fearing persecution. In 2021, he wrote an open letterexternal link to Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which was published in several European newspapers, protesting against the humanitarian organisation's reluctance to inspect Belarusian prisons, where victims and international NGOs claim that torture of political prisoners still goes on.

Filipenko is the author of the books Red Crosses, Die Jagd (The Hunt), Ex-Son, Zamysly, Vozvrashhenie v Ostrog, Kremulator, which have been translated into 15 languages. His latest novel Kremulator was published in German in February 2023 by Diogenes, a Swiss publishing house.

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SWI: Often those people who urge Russian or Belarusian citizens to speak out or protest locally reside safely in Europe.

S.F.: Sure, but I ask myself why can't Europe set an example and take to the streets and speak out against commercial relations with russiaexternal link , for instance. Only five European countries - Finland, Sweden and the Baltic states - have maintained the status quo or reduced the volume of sales with Russia. Even Poland, which is opposing the war so ardently, has expanded trade with Russia significantly, as well as switzerland and the Netherlands. It seems that some Europeans prefer half-measures.

Belarusian writer Sasha Filipenko at a meeting with former Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga at the Federal Palace in Bern in 2020. Sasha Filipenko

Today, Russian society is extremely atomised; everybody is living on their own. People may not support the regime, but they don't go out on the streets to protest against it for a variety of reasons. For many of them the war is a real catastrophe, but for others it is far away, as was the case with the war in Afghanistan. There were no real protests then either.

They do not see this war as 'their own' because they do not see themselves as members of that society. They refuse to participate in elections; their vote means nothing. For them, the aggression against Ukraine is a war waged by the Kremlin.

Polls show that Russian people support this war, but I don't think we've got any true numbers to rely on. People do not say what they really think but what they are expected to say.

Spending on propaganda has increased in Russia, relatively more than spending on the military. Putin is more afraid of his own people than of Ukraine. And propaganda is going to be needed for a long time to come. Right now, in a "battle between the television and the fridge" [the tension between propaganda-fueled patriotic euphoria and a darkening economic reality], TV is winning. Soon, that may change, and people will have to be told why the quality of their life is so low.



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