I have heard more than once that the play Otmorozki (Jerks) contains a “fascist message” from the author or the director. Some have clearly discerned the message and are constantly voicing their indignation. There are those who see and hear fascist messages everywhere, as if the atmosphere around them is full of the Fuhrer’s hysterical screams echoed by his brown-shirted riffraff.
I am afraid to sound off on this topic: what if I inadvertently drop a fascist phrase? How will I manage to whitewash my reputation?
I myself first saw the play Otmorozki – wait for it – in Germany. It was launched in Berlin.
I must confess that it stunned me.
Not that being stunned is so surprising: in my time, I myself wrote a novel called Sankya, about very real people, the National Bolsheviks, who are banned in Russia. Some of the lads who were the prototypes for the novel are no longer with us. One of them was found beaten to death at the time when another March of Those Who Disagree was being organised. Several minutes before his violent death, he managed to call his friends and warn them that he was being shadowed, apparently by “operatives”.
Well, those who are no more or those who have resigned from the party and are trying to forget about it and those who have gone missing – all of them suddenly came to life and were talking on the stage. They were all there, exactly as they were in those days when we believed that we could topple this government in just a couple of days and build a wonderful new country (make no mistake, I don’t mean a fascist one).
To cut a long story short, I cried during the play (as a real man, I must tell you that I haven’t cried in the last twenty years. Honestly, I haven’t.)
But there is no reason you should trust my emotions: I am an engaged person. First, I have not left the National Bolshevik party even though it is banned as an extremist organisation. Second, I did the rough draft of the play which was thoroughly worked on and produced by Kirill Serebrennikov.
So, what can you expect from me?
I had to compare my reaction to that of the audience.
On the first night, the hall was full of Germans: actors from Berlin theatres, local intellectuals, in short, Bohemians.
The translation of the text could be seen on a black screen, so the spectators could follow the play.
And, believe it or not, they cried too. Many of them did. And they laughed in funny places. In general, their reaction was stormy.
When the play was over, they gave it a standing ovation. One could see that the play had got under their skin. They were touched. They clapped their hands and cheered so loudly that I nearly fainted for joy.
Inspired by the reception, I attended the second performance of the play, that same evening in the same room. The audience this time was somewhat different: Russian émigrés, but of Soviet formation, mainly women, who had most likely emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s. The kind of women that wear silk frocks.
The play began. For those who don’t know, it begins with pandemonium: a rally, chaos, fights… teenagers carrying a red flag and shouting: “Drown the president in the Volga” and “Roll on riot”. They fight the police, swear, drink vodka and fight again. Then they are tortured and then…
Come to think of it, it does not matter, because from the very first minutes exclamations came from the audience: “What do they think they are doing?”, “That is impossible”, “How dare they? This is the Moscow Art Theatre Studio”.
Some walked out, making half the people in their row get up to let them leave. But they did not just leave. They tried to get behind the stage only to yell at the young actors: “Shame on you. What are you showing us?”
The young actors were to return to the stage in a minute.
I don’t know how they felt as they returned under the spotlight. If I got such an earful from an angry audience, I would yell even more ferociously: “Roll on riot”. But then, of course, I am not an actor.
At this point, some conclusion is in order about the fascist statements. A very politically incorrect conclusion.
It might be this.
The Soviet or “anti-Soviet” not-so-young émigré women were the first to catch on to the fascist thrust of the play and voice their protest.
Meanwhile, the German intellectuals and the theatrical community failed to sense the fascist message of the play and expressed their pleasure. What do you make of my ingenuous conclusion?
Or perhaps the German intellectuals and theatre buffs understood the fascist message of the play and – horror of horrors – that was why they cried and cheered. A case of nostalgia.
However, part of me feels that the situation is a good deal more complicated.
For instance, I notice more and more often that people with a totalitarian background and vulgar mentality are speaking increasingly frequently about fascism.
You will surely have noticed that sweeping accusations of fascism make any serious discussion impossible.
If the feeble-minded folk from Lake Seliger and those who protest on Triumfalnaya and Manezh squares, His Majesty the Prime Minister and author Eduard Limonov all are accused of fascism, what is there to talk about?
Perhaps we would do well to use that word less frequently. As for the play Otmorozki , its message is clear: it is about the Russian lads who, shall I say, care. They may look frightening: its freezing winter and they wear no hats; their cheeks and ears are red; their eyes burn and their hot breath turns to steam in the cold. Nothing doing: they are what they are. Many of us prefer to wear clothes that suit the weather, but these madmen do not notice the weather.
That is why I like them.
Or perhaps you think that the words “Russian lads” I have just used also reek of fascism? In that case, I am off.