Saltykov-Shchedrin has been differently referred to in Russia. For example, Dostoyevsky once said that after Mikhal Evgrafych ‘we have no spit-uncovered area in our country’. While Vasily Rozanov has noted that Shchedrin ‘like a hardened wolf, drunk of Russian blood and satiated fell off to the tomb’. In spite of that, no one will deny that Saltykov-Shchedrin possessed a sharp and mordant mind with an arrowy tongue: as for the vices of our Motherland – alas, they remain the same today as well – it was him who used to find them out and depict like nobody else did. Anyway, let you judge by yourself. Here is an interview the ‘Mirror of Crimea’ has taken with the next in turn classic writer. As we usually do, all the excerpts are authentic, as distinct from the compilations of aphorisms the Internet is filled up with, where there’s not a thing which wouldn’t have been ascribed to Saltykov-Shchedrin.
– Mikhail Evgrafovich, upon the reunification of Crimea with Russia and consequent turbulent events, first of all, the civil war in Ukraine and Western economic sanctions, one can observe a real patriotic boom in our country. Meanwhile it seems like under the patriotic rhetorics scoundrels and crooks are often hiding themselves. Is it so?
– After all, what is this patriotism everyone is so willingly shields himself with, the one I from my cradle presumed obligatory for myself and which, in the minute so decisive for the Motherland, the last of scoundrels treated in a boldest and most offhand way?
In the first moment all were as taken aback. They whispered, sighed, shook their heads and as a rule behaved themselves compliant to the circumstances. Then little by little they became familiar to it and everyone turned to his everyday affairs. In the end, they peered closely, internalized, weighed up… Everyone hurried up to somehow nestle closer to the pie in order to cunningly snatch away, conceal, shorten, carve out, miscalculate anything and, in total, as forcibly as the possibility allows, to pile a burden right between the shoulder-blades of beloved Motherland. The faces stretched out, the eyes were blurred, the mouths bared. From morning till evening… the people with greedy faces and clingy hands were scurrying about the streets hoping to make use of a mite… Unconsciously but nonetheless ruthlessly, Motherland was sold everywhere and at any price. She was sold both for a mite and for a larger jackpot; she was sold at the card table and by drowsy pledges at the dinner-parties; she was sold in home societies established for the purpose of better arrangement of militia and at the bells ringing, at the exclamations summoning victory and overcoming.
– The elections have recently finished in Crimea. A great number of people sought for a chance to penetrate into the regional and local authorities by their means, those who seem to have tried themselves in every political force and social movement: thinkable or not, right- or left-wing, pro-Ukrainian or pro-Russian ones.
– Alongside the greatest drama which had the word ‘death’ to be its exhaustible content, a most shameful comedy of idle talk and empty boasts was going on, the one that was not only dimming the events but actually saturated them with unbearable colors. People notoriously despicable, hypocrites, fools, thieves, robbers for momentary drinking away, all they showed so impertinent kind of vitality and so strengthened in their stands, that it seemed like something of a fairy tale has been going around. It was not mourn to be heard, but some openly sneaking exultancy under a heading of patriotism. It has never ever been so that drunken haze so thoroughly occupied the province, never has the thirst for plunder been so obviously and unpunishedly satisfied
– Then these are righteous reasons which quite significant number of Russian intelligentsia – I mean figures like Makarevich, Shenderovich, Bykov, Venediktov – forwards to express dissent on how does Russia develop
– To say truth, a contented man is now very rare to be met in Russia. I naturally mean solely cultural class, for there’s no time for uncultured people to be discontented. Whoever you listen to, everybody resents something, complains, exclaims. One say there are too little liberties granted, the other – too much; one murmurs on that the authorities are inactive, the other – that the power takes exceedingly actions; ones find that the stupidity has overcome us, the others – that we’ve become too intelligent; the thirds, in the end, participate in all these dirty tricks and keep saying with laughter: oh, where could you see such disgrace?! Even public property stealers – even they are discontented because of a fact that there would be nothing to steal away soon. And each one claims a constitution personally for himself…
– Oh yes, as you have written in ‘Cultural Yearning’: ‘I was sitting home and as usual, didn’t know what should I do. I had a wish for something: perhaps for constitutions, or sturgeon with horseradish, or to fleece someone. First, to fleece, it winkled in my head; to fleece, and aside right at the moment. And in today’s manner, no plaintiffs, no defendants – what? It, so to say, happened as it is by itself – come on, seek for the trails! And then, having recommended yourself right-minded, you can also dream over the constitutions while at leisure’. But now we would better return to our ‘discontented’…
– This totality of discontent linked with best wishes for the most pleasant projects for one’s self and with complete unconcern for neighbor’s life conditions seems to me as a fact all the more significant that the spirit of fronde seems to creep into the core of the very strongholds. And, to add, the rebelliousness of such promiscuous sort, that no one is ever able to capture all its hues (as well, therefore, to satisfy naughty requirements of these hues). No need to travel far for examples. When they first carried out a partition of Western governorates between the officials, then that of Ufa governorate, we could witness truly awesome things. To seem so, what’s better: you’ve snatched away a piece of public pie – just get off! Nothing of the sort, right here it came to pass that hurly-burly, hatred, desecration and every shamefulness broke out in full strength, with their principal target – alas! – namely that not scanty hand which did undertake the very partition for the only purpose to bestow the lords officials and, certainly, at the same time to lay a foundation of corporation of contented. Let, one would say, a tiny pimple spring up at first, and thereupon, hurrying not and praying to God, we’ll have our expectations fulfilled with emerging of a big blister.
Meanwhile, it has turned out perfectly, perfectly other way.
I remember myself going along Nevsky avenue in the time of one of those partitions. I then supposed: I would inevitably meet with some of my acquaintances who would have taken a chance to drag out if just a little bit. I would recognize how and what, and quite appropriate it would be right at that moment to congratulate with the fortunate abduction. Precisely yes, scarcely had I stepped out of Anichkov bridge, and look out, His excellence Pyotr Petrovich walks on.
– Snatched away? – I’m asking.
– For Godness sake! what does it look like! they threw out a piece, and with limitations imposed, as well! They say: you should utilize it in this and that manner: no deforestation, no crumpling grass, no fishing! And the main: dare not sell but gradually exploit it by yourself. It is only at us that such nonsense might pass by gratis.
– There’s also another matter many find to be discontented with: Russia, they say, has contraposed herself to all the ‘civilized world’ and, as a result, was sternly answered by large economical sanctions of the West.
– I remember my thoughts when they first disclosed the gates abroad for us: it’s vainly that we, Russians, are now accessed abroad, probably we’ll catch an infection. And that proved to be a point, there were not rare occasions of infection then. Once we get overseas, as we used to, we are lashing out exactly like those starving. What beautiful forms of governance, what a climate – take on just a single shirt and walk, what tables d’hôte and restaurants – even better. Nowhere shouts for help are heard, nowhere threats to bring to the precinct are voiced, no one overrides you, nobody reminds you how does a thing or two looks like. Why then to wonder, on such conditions, that neither Valdai mountains, nor Palkin’s inn would come to mind, and the less of all Pyotr Tolstolobov, the governor of Underhill governorate.
Oh, we were turning the air blue, yes, we were, at that joyful time! A flow of ridiculous anecdotes it was that constantly poured out from the lips of cultured sons of Russia. ‘La Russie… ha ha… le peuple russe… ha ha!… les boyards russes… ha ha!’ ‘Do you really know that our rouble is now valued as a half… ha ha!’ ‘Oh, where did they see such things… ha ha!’ To say so, Russia’s sons not only refused to restrain themselves, but rushed on interrupting each other as if being afraid that someone would be on time to make mischief before. And once the repertoire of ‘Russian life stories’ appeared to be quite meager, it was not because of deficiency of wish for the foul speaking, but rather due to ineptitude to properly use the material and poor ingeniousness. Certainly, the Western people, while listening to these sagas, made conclusions of no great flatter for Russia.
– Not just in your times, but also nowadays many Russians have got an inferiority complex before foreigners…
– To a Russian man any foreigner seems a higher organism potent both to think and to express his thought; and he shivers and gets frightened seeing any, for who knows? what if you fail to oversee yourself and make a gaff because of your ignorance! In Russia he used to travel by relay and hit coachmen in the teeth; while abroad, he has changed seats to a wagon and doesn’t know how and whom to pour out his grateful soul. He might make advances to the conductor and seeks to kiss his pretty shoulder (it is known, as a matter of fact, that we have no midpoint: either ‘into the snout’ or ‘your pretty hand, s’il vous plait!’); he enters into a conversation with his vis-à-vis and one wonder over the other he does manifest, one ‘ah!’ over the other! ‘I’m Russian, ergo, I’m a fool, ergo, an odor goes from me’, that’s what his whole huddling figure says.
– Vous êtes russe, monsieur? – he’s asked.
– Oui, so to say; yes, so to say – the confused Russian starts murmuring. – Ne désirez-vous pas du champagne?
So hilarious a rejoice will he get once his proposal is accepted! for here an occasion comes to him to undertake a construction of whole series of perverted stories on that Russia is a cannibal land, that living in Russia is beyond any possibility, that in Russia there’s no educated society etc. etc. Whence and what would creep out! whence a good humor would appear, as well as playfulness and jaunty manners!
Many explain this fact somewhat by lightness and communicability of the Slavonic nature, somewhat by a living need for spitting one’s self, which allegedly constitutes the main Russians’ feature; however, as for me, I think that along with these two attributes there’s another, more profound reason making our traveling compatriots stay in so to say continual shame. I agree that communicability is a sui generis praised quality, but I can hardly imagine that it would elevate itself up to suffering beatings and slaps, because there’s no communicability at all in such case. I also agree that the need to spit one’s self is a very lively while lawful requirement, but I find it difficult to imagine that it could reach the degree of delight for its own ugliness and involving totally extraneous persons in for sharing such delight. So wouldn’t it be closer to the truth to see in such thing some protesting squeak, some thought, selfish but shy, something like ‘I’m, you see, a cool guy, but what of my fellow Russians – they are worthless people!’
There’s nobody in the world who so likes to speak out with obloquies – and merely addressing the native brass – like the Russian cultured person. The Western man conceives not such a necessity. He may be aware of that the things go wrong in his homeland, but at the same time he keeps it clear that this unsatisfactory situation should be eliminated not by foul words, but by a direct objection he is authorized to make also by the law. We, Russians, have no authorization and owing to that, use to replace it with obloquy. To what extent is our system of critics more useful than the western one, I will not examine, but it’s one thing I might say: nothing good has ever happened of our obloquy.
Alexandr Mashchenko, SIMFEROPOL