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Interview with Tatyiana Lazareva
Thank you so much for doing this interview today. We know that you were filming a show in Kyiv on February 23rd and on February 24th you and your team were celebrating the end of the production. What were your first thoughts when you found out about the explosions in Mariupol?
Yes, in fact, I finished filming in Kyiv on February 23rd. And I had a flight on the 25th. What did I feel when I found out about the war? It’s hard to describe now, it’s been more than half a year. But it fundamentally changed my life and plans. Because I planned on staying in Kyiv for a couple of days and then returning to Moscow. I obviously didn’t fly anywhere on the 25th. I managed to return only in the middle of March. But instead of Moscow, I flew to Spain. We have been renting an apartment there for quite a while.
We know that you are a member of the Coordination Council of Russian Opposition. Is it true?
No, it’s not. The Coordination Council had been operational for 6 months in 2012. I doubt that any of us who were there can be called a member now.
So, you used to be a member, am I right? Do you support small movements of media activists? What do you think about grass-roots youth resistance? Does it have a chance?
A chance for what? Resistance?
More likely for maintaining dignity and promoting democratic values.
Everyone has this chance for it. Why not? Everything in the world has a chance. I can’t bring myself to define these movements as “grass-roots”, but since there’s no other term for them so far, we will have to use this one. I think right now these autonomic initiatives that come from the people who self-organize without any directive are vital. To me, it shows not just human involvement but the civil engagement of the people who as conscious citizens realized at some point that they are not entirely indifferent to what’s going on in their country. And this is quite a big chance for these people and the country in general. Because the more active the citizens are, the better chances the country has. Because if there is an exchange of opinions between the government and the people, there is life which is a driver of everything. Only due to this exchange of opinions, which is impossible in totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, can there be productive communication and moving forward.
Thank you. What advice would you give beginner civil activists?
I don’t know. I can advise something only when I am asked to. How can I give you any advice? It’s wrong.
Okay, next question then. We are very concerned about the younger generation, teenagers and kids to be precise. They could become subject to propaganda, which unfortunately is coming from both sides. Why do you think some adults get easily affected by it, but kids sometimes can instantly grasp what`s going on? We often meet teenagers in our “No to war” chat. We have more than 20k participants there. We talk to young people and teenagers and we are noticing a growing trend of feeling defeated. How can we help them in your opinion?
This question has a similar intention as the previous one. I don’t really like “How can I help” and “What can I advise” questions. I mean if I am asked to help or advise on something, I will. You are asking me how to help teenagers. What exactly do you want to help them with?
Probably with developing critical thinking.
Before developing it, we need to remember that critical thinking as long as cause-and-effect relationships are managed by a certain cortex lobe. They say it gets fully formed by the age of 30. That’s why adolescent and child minds are more open than a mind of a grown-up. Grown-ups get accustomed to certain ways throughout their lives. They use their own comfortable patterns and take familiar paths. But kids can try things and shift back and forth in their understanding of life, they are still searching and trying. That’s why we can’t demand a solid understanding of what’s right and wrong from them. And unfortunately, we can`t help them either. But I think it’s a task to tackle in earlier ages when parents and society are more involved. In this age it’s important to teach a person that it’s okay to make mistakes, and they are not as scary as they seem. Why any kind of critical thinking has not been developed? Because my generation was taught that mistakes are bad, you should not admit them and you should not make them. But in reality, we see mistakes as experience now. “Experience’s the son of painful errors” as Pushkin once wrote. We can’t gain experience without making mistakes, because experience is the realization that you are not going to act this way anymore, and do something different. After all, one can’t get a proper result doing the same thing over and over again. If I could convey to the parents and other caretakers, I would draw their attention to the fact that they have to be there when their kids are tasting this life and just help them out as questions come in. Just be there to explain and give some advice but never say anything like “Oh, you got it all wrong again! You have no critical thinking whatsoever. That is propaganda and this one is not”. It’s necessary to pay more attention to kids and teenagers and just answer their questions. But if there are no questions, then there’s nothing to answer. It’s more likely for older ages though as children usually have a lot of questions. But grownups discourage them by saying “Stay out of it! Go do your homework instead”. It robs children of their natural curiosity and desire to learn something new.
Thank you. Many young activists are being misunderstood by their families. I mean the older generation is more likely to take the view projected by the state propaganda. So, these young people have to hide both their anti-war stance and their involvement in an oppositional activity. Family arguments are quite common for them. How can those generations that take quite polar views find a compromise?
Look, in current Russian realities, one should keep oppositional or any kind of clandestine activity low profile. Moreover, if you are close with your parents or other older relatives, you are putting them in danger. Your actions should be discreet and careful.
You just need to accept the fact that you can’t share it with your close ones. It’s very sad and unfortunate, but it suggests that you can bond with other people. Of course, we all need and want to share our thoughts. Especially with our close ones. But for the sake of not traumatizing them and yourself, it might be better to drop this idea temporary (only temporary!). Because I am one hundred percent sure the only truth in the world is always a victory of good over evil. And it’s wrong to kill people at the very least. This is the real truth and some day it will be victorious. And the “truth” that our propaganda is pouring into people’s minds will back down. And then we'll talk, admit our mistakes and say where we were wrong. We will talk and so will they. We should be looking forward to this moment and keep it in mind. When the time comes, we can talk and forgive. That’s why it’s very important not to ruin this relationship now and give it a chance. So later on, at least some love and respect will get in through this crack in the wall.
But so far, it’s very hard. I understand that all these are just words and it’s really painful to live with someone who you can’t talk to and share. It just means that you need to physically constrain yourself and try not to waste energy. Because it drains it. We all need this energy now and we will need it for quite a while. And I would not even recommend it, I would ask to minimize this energy drain. Because right now there are more important things that would require your strength. And when all of this is over, we will figure everything else out.
Great! Could you elaborate on how you’d channel your energy, and where you’d recommend to channel it?
It’s impossible to list them all. But everyone these days has an opportunity for resistance. In the very beginning you were right when you called it this way. And everyone has a chance to be a part of this resistance. It’s just the scale is individually different. You know it’s like charity. For some reason people of my generation once thought that only rich people donate to charity. But in reality, charity is when you offer your excessive energy and resources. There are various types of resources: money, physical labor, time, and connections. It’s already something if you have an abundance of that and you can non-detrimentally give it. Let’s say you have some free time so, for instance, you could go and print out the “Women’s Truth” newspaper. It’s some help. You don’t have to be distributing it. There will be someone who has a better suited resource for that: more people and opportunities. But it’s very easy to find yourself useful.
Even if you can’t do any of that you can just make a nice cup of tea and support the ones who get burned out and tired, the ones who have already lost hope. And this kind of activity is very similar to volunteer work.
But if one wants not only to resist but to make a statement, it’s not necessary to rally in the streets. Even though it’s expected from us in Ukraine and the rest of the world with persistence worthy of a better cause. It’s possible to find other options: there are lots of telegram channels (I occasionally share links to them as well). Everything you can help with is good. Every little bit counts. Did I answer your question?
Yes, it was an amazing answer. Actually, there were a lot of activists at the beginning of the war, and now there are many as well, due to the draft. We are upsurging and working 12-16 hours a day. You are right about excessive energy. Maybe this is the advice on how to find the right balance, when you do it without losing yourself in a process and decide how much of your free time you can dedicate.
Yes! It’s extremely important. Mobilizing all our strength and energy is necessary. Our body is very resilient, but if you look at it, no one can bear such a level of commitment and at some point, will crack and have a breakdown. But we have a lot of work ahead of us. We all will be rebuilding Ukraine after the end of hostilities. And that includes Russians as well. And, I am sorry to say that, but establishing the new Russia is on Russians alone, on all of us. And we need to invest more in planning our path. That’s why it’s important to measure our own abilities. It’s quite common for the young people to say: “I have my whole life ahead of me. I am full of energy”. But from the perspective of the elderly like me (laughs), one understands that being full of energy is great but it’s not an infinite resource. And being able to replenish it is a very important skill, that, if acquired in the young age, will definitely come in handy throughout your entire life.
Thank you! That was some really useful information. I would like to ask you how to replenish it. Any tips that you could give?
You know those are trivial and simple things. Just today I talked to my friend and she was like: “I am always in a rush. There’s always a lot of work and I can’t just leave it. It will all collapse without me”. But you should treat yourself as a crystal vase. This crystal vase can break one day and then it won’t serve any good, it won’t be eye pleasing and beautiful, it will be impossible to put flowers into. It’s done. That’s why it needs to be treated cautiously: carefully moved to different places, wiped and polished to shine. After all, it should be looked after. And that’s exactly how you should treat yourself, just the way you would treat a crystal vase. We all understand what replenishes our physical strength: sleep, food, air, water. It’s not rocket science; you just follow these recommendations without driving yourself in a restless rush. Because there must be a break. And not this type of break we have been taught. Not this “You can catch a break later” type. There’s this terrible soviet phrase that goes “left for a well-deserved rest”. Having rest is not something that you need to earn. You simply do it when you get tired. And it’s absolutely normal! If you listen to your body, it just works this way. It’s a design of nature that you work in the daytime and sleep in the nighttime. But you are not supposed to work 24/7. It is all very simple in this regard. You just need to watch your body, feelings and senses. It’s quite difficult to be fully mindful, but it’s a very honest experience: you take care of your body, your spirit and your well-being. And when you feel good, everyone around you feels good. And the opposite happens to your enemies – the better you feel, the worse they do. Believe me, it’s been proved true.
Great! Thank you for your advice. Do you have time for a couple more questions?
Yeah, sure. I have a couple of minutes.
I would like to revisit the subject of Russia and Ukraine. You mentioned the future of Ukraine and Russia and the fact that Russia will probably have to rebuild Ukraine. From the social and political perspective, what do you think is going to happen to Russia and Russian society in the future?
I can’t predict anything, but even now it’s very clear that the economic breakdown in Russia is inevitable. And the sanctions which have not entered into force yet, will take effect in the long run. And most importantly they won’t be lifted that easily. It needs to be proved that at some point these sanctions are allowed to be lifted. But it will have to be done by different people, not the ones under whose leadership they were imposed. There will be a massive economic decline. It’s already evident that Russia is descending into chaos and a total mistrust of authorities. The trust will have to be earned. And I don’t know who is going to do it and when it’s going to happen. But it’s pretty much obvious that it will have to be done. But that is going to be our own concerns, our own domestic issues and nobody will care.
All the institutions that will have been completely ruined by that time not only will have to be rebuilt, but to be completely dismounted and then built from scratch. Because everything including our law enforcement, judiciary, education and health care is malfunctioning to say the least. Unlike some small country, Russia is huge, unwieldy and poorly governed. So, all those institutions will have to be fixed and managed. So, I am quite pessimistic in that regard because I don’t see anything positive happening in the forthcoming future. But it does not mean that it’s bad. It just takes time and a lot of energy.
Yes, exactly. The last question then. What advice would you give to the people in Russia who are trying to make a civic statement? (Yeah, I am asking for advice again. I am sorry).
Well, it’s quite a regular approach. I don’t want to be giving tips not because
I am coquetting. Non-requested advice makes no sense and simply doesn’t work. It does, only when you ask for help or advice. And all that “Oh, I recommend this and that…”. Nobody the hell needs my recommendations! I just experience this false feeling of shame. Like everyone who left Russia voluntarily or involuntarily. Mostly of them did it involuntarily, I guess. I don’t know that many people around who left of their own free will. So, they want to come back to Russia. I do too and I certainly will. But when I think about people who stayed in Russia, for the most part, I feel an immense pain that we got apart and I am not there with them. It is this feeling of guilt for the fact that I am here. That I am for some reason in a better place than all those people in Russia who have to bear this horror, fear and plunge into darkness. I just want to say that I see all of this and I am trying to help with what I can. I am absolutely open for any requests and I can advise people on particular subjects (laughs). Everything we are doing here is being done to support people in Russia, to support our country that took this steep winding path. I am tired of trying to understand what kind of path it is and why it happened. I am not giving any advice, I am just thinking and asking others to think not on the matter “Who is responsible?”, but on a different one. Right now, it’s time to answer the question “What do we need to do?”. The other questions we should be asking ourselves are “What can I do for my country to stop it from wandering in the darkness? What can I do as an active citizen to be a reliable support for my state?”. Wherever I live, wherever we all live, we are people who care deeply about our country, and we are ready with our critical consciousness and common sense. So, what can we do to build a country regardless of our borders and geographical locations that will always remember to be united and not to waste our energy and resources on useless confrontations?”
Actually, it was an amazing closing statement. We really liked it.