Echoes from the Kremlin
Translated by
Joera Mulders
May 29, 2011
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Original appeared in Kommersant Vlast'
Author: Zakhar Prilepin
Images: Kommersant
Read the translator's introduction

Kremlinology galore! Few institutes are surrounded by as much mysteriousness as the Kremlin. Sometimes it even seems as if the mission of Kremlinology is to create mystery, rather than to understand the forces that rule Russia. While the choice for my previous translation, the history of modern Russia through the eyes of its pop music, was amongst others intended to demystify the idea that the course of the nation is determined in the towers of the Kremlin, to show it is society itself which turns and twists from westernism to patriotism from liberalism to conservatism and back and that authorities do much less then ride the waves, this translation completely indulges in the mystification of the powers in the Kremlin.

It is 2019. Today’s grey cardinal of the Kremlin, Vladislav Surkov passes his days with manual labor in a remote village. He remembers the last days of the rule of Putin’s circle, who finally lost power in a political takeover very similar to the October revolution in 1917. Even the dates coincide. Left wing and right wing spiral out of control in a political vacuum. The military sits back. Nashi’s street brigades betray their master.

Does this literary prose teach us something about the Kremlin? Perhaps. Not less indeed than most articles written about the subject. It does show us that even a political establishment magazine like Kommersant Vlast’ is looking towards the future. Change, as Prilepin’s Surkov writes repeatedly is inevitable. Enjoy!

If we would say that we are witnessing the slow but sure end of the Putin era, many of you would certainly disagree. But still, it will be hard to argue with the fact that this period sooner or later will have to come to an end. And when that happens, the country, like all those times before, will all of a sudden open its eyes and remember everything the former powers have done, and even more.

Have no doubt. Among those ‘rememberers’ there will be many, who have served as reliable pillars of the current regime, by then tossed away in the dustbin of history.  What will we read in memories of those VIP’s, those former right hands, faithful servants, fiery henchmen and red or grey cardinals?

That question can be answered today. They will openly, honestly and impartially tell the new generations, how they suffered in these savage years, how pitiful it was to live and work in that snake pit called the Kremlin and how they (within their powers, of course) fought against the ruling regime.

So when these questions can be answered in advance, why should we wait? Why shouldn’t we write the future memoirs of our current heroes today?

Vlast’ magazine presented this idea to people with literary skills and they liked it. So in this and the coming magazines you will be able to read the post-Putin memories of several great figures of current Russian politics, which are written by our authors.

The project will start with the vice-head of the Presidential Administration, the father of sovereign democracy: Vladislav Surkov. His future memoirs were kindly offered to us by Zakhar Prilepin.

Now that I can tell you everything, I have nothing more to tell.

I always preferred writing over talking and I always preferred thinking over writing. And now the time has come, when I can permit myself no to think, but to understand.

The future, about which I once wrote, that future is now nationalized.

From the surface it seems that the future wasn’t nationalized by us, but by other people.

But that is only what it seems from the surface.

I am offered different, mostly dark roles in the recent history of our country. But only I know who I was, when you were still a nobody.

Many rumors circulate about my current situation, but they do not mean much.

It’s sufficient to see that I live and how I live to draw the obvious conclusions. 

I didn’t leave the motherland. The foolish exaggerations of my wealth remain rumors. I have nothing, but I am content with my freedom.

In the mornings I go out with my ice pick.  There is ice and lots snow. I can do any kind of work. The neighbors greet me. They tell me they remember me as a child, but I do not recognize any of them.

I am 55 years old, but I feel those years only when I remember how they passed. It turns out to be a pretty big ball, when you start to unwind it. So better not.

But if I would have to peer into the void and perhaps only for a second remember the most important, then ..

.. then I would remember a huge mountain, bathing in the sunlight. This is the mountain I once hoped to climb, half a century ago, when I was 5 years old.

I always wanted to return to that mountain in Chechnya, but when many years later I did return, the mountains were no more. It was as if they had collapsed into the ground. What was left was a lonely hill, a hill that I could cross in 7 minutes. I saw it, I turned around and I left.

This was the story about how memory and vision fooled me for the first time.

I also remember my school. It was situated in between the small cities of the Ryazansk region, next to the police station. The walls of the two buildings touched each other, so when it was my turn to clean the floor of the office, I sometimes tried to listen to what was going on behind that wall, where the law was made.

The smallest of police stations seemed enormous to me and the people who went into that building fascinated me.  They emitted the air of authority.

Many years later, I returned to that school and it turned out to be so laughable. I will not even speak of the police building, which looked like a kindergarten with barred windows.

I also remember how in that very October, when the previous era came to an end, V-r swallowed a bitter pill and asked, as if he was addressing someone in in the void: ‘How could this happen?

Then he looked at all of us and answered himself. ‘Just like that, dammit!’

He stood up from his chair and at first I thought that he … well that he had grown thin in an hour only. His jacket was clearly too large for him and he even dragged with his shoes, as if they were three sizes too large.

(I remember thinking that if two pieces of paper were to be crushed and placed in the nose of the shoes, he would be able to walk normally, but he wouldn’t be able to run.)

I want to say that I am already afraid to be reminded of those heights, on which base I once stood.

And nobody wants to be reminded of me neither.

Where are those many-colored knights of the corrupt table, who would lower their eyes, when I walked into the room, very much like that shamefaced thief in that famous novel?

Where are all those thick-lipped intellectuals with rosy cheeks, who looked at me like rabbits and ate everything that I fed them from my hands.

I don’t hear them no more. I do no longer discern their reverent silhouettes.

But indeed, with what could I feed them now. With my bitterness, my disappointment?

Well yes, three times already I have been promised that V would come. I have a small recording studio in the basement and a small library, which I took from the Kremlin. I didn’t have anything else to bring. My books and my music. The only things that did not leave and betray me.

Perhaps, we could sing. Perhaps we could record our voices.

People of culture have always interested me more than politicians. By the way, the latter I despised for their stupidity and the former I will never be able to forgive their weakness.

As a result all that I felt year in year out was a vast loneliness and a lack of warmth in the surrounding atmosphere.

But I did what I had to do. And how paradoxical it may now sound, the first results of my work you can see today.

The results could have been somewhat better, if those who ruled back then had listened to me more often.

And when those who came to power today, would hear me out even just once.

Now everyone who is leaving Russia says that it was him who tried to prevent that what should have happened and did happen.

Now everyone who is staying in Russia keeps silent about how he tried to prevent that what should have happened and did happen.

Nobody understands the situation from within to the extent I do. And let those gentlemen pray that I will remain silent for their sake.

And the first person, and the second person and the third person like before fantasize about me and my role in all these events.

And like it was before, I am still the subject of their useless fantasies.

I remember how three years before the well known events, the fiery E-d, back then still from the tribune (and not from the position of the tribunal) argued that Russia had only two politicians. He and I.

I remember how two years before the legendary events, my blood brother, the writer G-n said that Russia had only two thinkers: He and I.

I remember how another one philosopher, another one prophet and another one frustrated Caesar in similar ways compared themselves to me. They all so very much wanted to dance with me in tandem!

But honestly, I never compared myself to anyone and the reason wasn’t pride.  At the time when it was me who did the work, the country had two politicians, two intellectuals and two philosophers. Me and I.

And the loneliness about which I spoke. It suited me just fine.

Do you remember how Brodsky’s hawk ascends into the thin atmosphere?

I often read those poems out loud.

Now the stupid masses are shamelessly shown clips in which I scream obscene words to the leaders of the parliamentary parties, calling them assholes and degenerates. And they stand and nod their empty heads, my dear and loyal supporters of the system.

It would be better if they would show clips with poems! That’s would much more important.

As if I didn’t know that B-s was stupid, that S-n was stupid and malicious and that Ya-ko was simply scum.

It would be wiser to appreciate how with such human capital we still managed to preserve the country and prepare it for the things to come.

The country, which I created, dealt with poverty, separatism, stopped the collapse of the army and the state apparatus and ousted the idiotic oligarchy. … That’s more than a little, more than a little…

We – amongst others I – created the basis for a new revolutionary turn, because revolutions appear there, where there is life and the attributes of freedom.

For all of you I protected the former and latter.

If that what happened, would have happened three or five years earlier, when – in simple language – the nation would not have been ready for a takeover. The social-political infrastructure would have crumbled in an instant and the situation could have developed according to unpredictable scenario’s.

And most importantly! Nobody can deny the simple fact that there have always been people in the Kremlin, who were prepared (and passionately desired!) to get rid of the people posing these problems. For example Kh. or E. or N. or that same person about whom you all say that he emerged so unexpectedly (and who will never disclose what he told me in my office. )

But as you know nothing deadly happened to these people.

And who do you think prevented that from happening?

Guess it yourself!

It was a very complicated game and I played at minimum on three boards at the same time. And then there are all those political characters, who convinced themselves that they were playing with me or against me, while I didn’t even know of their existence!
On the basis of these fine games, I could write a textbook that would even make the deceitful intriguers of the heydays of the Roman empire feel jealous, as well as the connoisseur of the impeccable chess studies written by Nabokov.

The masses however crave for stories about defeats. The masses after all do not which be grateful to anyone and always want to think that they have accomplished everything themselves.

Well, if they want to think so, let them.

Well, if they want defeats, then I talk about defeats.

As we all know, the final act of the struggle with the insurgent left and right lasted from the 25th of October to the 1st of November. Let me stress that the people who were in power back then were fighting on two fronts at the same time.

After the well known events in the last week of October the implementation of the plan for the (counter)revolution started, all in the name of ‘peace, bread and the immediate assembly of the new parliament’. The preparations proceeded quite successfully, in particular because the socialist parties and the right wing groups at a certain point, as it seemed to them, spiraled out of control.

In fact the command over them simply ended.

Should I mention the name of him, who did everything to dismantle the commanding structure?

The government supposedly prepared for the suppression of the riots, but since it could no longer count on the garrison that was demoralized by a mutiny of officers, the government hurriedly and nervously searched for other leverages of power.

Colonel-General N-v, who commanded the troops in the region, received the order to work out a plan to suppress the riots. It was also suggested that in due course he would take charge of the loyal parts of the garrison.

Do you know what happened to this plan? I was too lazy to put it through the shredder, all the more because in those days the machine had to dispose of a wide range of other troublesome documents. I just threw the plan in the trash can.

The members of the cabinet learned too late, that during these fateful days N-v himself as well as part of his staff played a double game and sided with that part of the officers, whose plan it was to sit out the events.

I simply did not inform the government about that, because already there wasn’t anything anymore it could it do.

Most ridiculous and shameful were the actions of the street brigades, which were in its time created by Ya-ko on my orders. I had already guessed that he would be the one to betray me, but I never thought that it would him who would betray me first.

On the 25th of October it was apparent that the revolution could no longer be stopped. It had already started.

During the last evening, I returned to the Kremlin. Everyone was there. One can easily imagine the tensed, nervous atmosphere that prevailed over that nightly meeting. None of them however even thought of the option of starting negotiations with the rebels. Their decision was unanimous. Today, some people harshly criticize the ‘indecisiveness’ and ‘passivity’ of the highest authorities, but they do not realize that the government found itself between the hammer of western monitors and the anvil of the left wing and right wing organizations, as well as the jubilant masses.

Painfully, the long hours stretched that night. The authorities were hoping for reinforcements, but they didn’t come. Continuous talks were conducted over the phone with the special troops. With various excuses, they remained in their barracks, all the time informing us that in about a minute or twenty they would begin to saddle their horses.

As far as I remember the government meeting ended in the third hour after midnight. All the ministers went home.

Since that night, we haven’t seen each other no more.

The loss of spirit and faint-heartedness that ruled the heights and the complete misunderstanding of the fatal implications of the developing events, the absence among some of the realization of their own close to zero prospects in the bowels of the emerging powers; the hope of others to end the hated sovereign democracy with the hands of the rebels; and finally the maelstrom of personal intrigues and appetites: all these spiraling processes nullified all our attempts to prevent a collapse that had always  been inevitable.

And now the new authorities will need to complete the tasks, for which I didn’t have the time, to subdue the shadow-institutes of corruption, the criminal arbitrariness, the market of surrogate and counterfeit products, the reactionist attacks of isolationism and more and more and more.

Now the new authorities again try to grow lemons, but my memory tells me that even good apple harvests are not guaranteed in our lands. But if they have really come to found a new faith, then I wasn’t its Pilate, but only its misunderstood prophet.


And now I must go and crush some ice.

The ice ax in my hand makes me feel calm.

Ryazansky region, Skopin, November,  minus 40