25 May 2022
by Grigory Chkhartishvili [Boris Akunin]
This discussion didn’t start yesterday and won’t end soon — about the Russians’ guilt in the war Putin unleashed, about the monstrous crime whose willing and unwilling acccomplices the inhabitants of an entire country are, and, in the opinion of many, even everyone who considers themselves a part of Russian culture.
Today on my feed, several people are reminding me yet again of Thomas Mann’s famous texts about German collective responsibility (his letter to Walter von Molo, his ‘Germany and the Germans’ ): “…For someone born a German, it is impossible to completely renounce an evil Germany burdened by historical guilt and say, ‘I am the good, noble, just Germany; look at my snow-white raiment. I am giving you the evil one to tear to pieces’.”
Let’s talk not about Mann and the Germans, let’s talk about us.
I don’t believe in collective responsibility and collective guilt. Never and under no circumstances. Let each person answer for what they, personally, have done — and for what they didn’t do but should have. Even with a villainy committed by a group, a crowd, an army — it doesn’t matter. There has to be a personal demand on each person. (This is exactly why, for example, I am a firm opponent of lustration. Judge each guilty person for their crime — yes. Punish entire categories of people — no. Each person, even the most guilty, deserves to be treated individually. Ordinary justice has to be guided by the same rule as the Last Judgment: “to each one according to his deeds”).
Now about modern-day Russians.
Those who are actively working for this war and the dictatorship are unquestionably criminals and will answer for their actions before a court of law.
Those who one way or another are serving the war and the dictatorship, even if unwillingly, are also guilty. They deserve contempt and condemnation.
Those — and there are a great many of them — who cover their ears, close their eyes, and say “it’s not all so one-sided” or “they can see better at the top,” are morally guilty. Later they will have to justify themselves to their own children, mumble “those were the times,” “we didn’t know who to believe,” “I did it for the family,” and so on.
But there are many others of us alive.
I feel respect for people who protest, act, or at least are simply not silent. And the more bravely they behave, the closer they are to danger, the higher the degree of my respect.
Even just to pick up and emigrate — out of protest — is not so little. And there’s no need to write that the fate of the Ukrainian refugees is many times more horrible. No one disputes that. Of course, it’s more horrible. But to wreck your life and lose your job, your profession, and your home not because bombs are falling on you but because you don’t want to live in a criminal state, because you say, ‘I refuse to howl with the wolves on the squares,’ is a difficult decision worthy of every respect.
I feel even more respect for Russians who, despite the mounting aggressiveness of the police state, have remained in the Russian Federation and not remained quiet. I am very worried for them. They’re risking their freedom. I don’t simply respect them, I admire them.
I also want to address those slinging abuse. Listen, you who left long ago, who left recently, who remained. It’s awful, sad, hard, and scary for everyone now. It’s a time when we need to help, to support, to sympathize. To be together. In hoc signo vinces. In this, conquer.
Translated by Marian Schwartz