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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

11.11.2011

On NT production of “Collaborators”

On 9 November at the invitation of the National Theatre a representative of the Russian Embassy was present at NT Forum on Collaborators сhaired by Martin Sixsmith with participation of Sir Roderic Lyne. After the discussion that provided an in-depth view of the relevant historical context of the play, Minister Counsellor Alexander Kramarenko with other participants watched the performance in the Cottesloe Theatre. We welcome the interest of the British in Russia’s history, including the use of that material for raising truly global, existential issues of universal importance. This interest has been recently testified to by The BBC Radio-4 dramatization of Vassily Grossman’s Life and Fate. These are the impressions and some thoughts inspired by John Hodge’s play:

It was an impressive performance, both from the point of view of the quality of the script and formidable acting by Alex Jennings (Mikhail Bulgakov), Simon Russell Beale (Stalin) and the rest of their company. It was a very convincing laughter through tears satyre, which in no way diminishes the horror of the subject and reasserts the best traditions of the English theatre. The genre seems to be borrowed from Dostoevsky’s “fantastic realism”, i.e. artificial construction of the reality as means of making the point. Overall the production is a huge success, all the actors able to bridge the gap between foreign reality and its perception in the English language, including the choice of words and sensitive treatment of all the characters’ parts.

A play on complex reality of another country always raises for the audience the issue of how to relate to that roughly familiar context. So, it is useful to compare to a similar period of their own history. And in this case it may well be either the break with Rome under Henry VIII or Puritan dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. 

What seems to be of additional value of this production is that its message goes beyond the particular historical experience of a particular country and raises a universal problem transcending national and societal borders. It is timely now that the issue of corruption is on everybody’s mind and all are anticipating another wave of the global financial crisis. Corruption as corruption of human spirit is treated as absolute evil. The play in its artistic mastery rises to the level of generalization which is rare at our time of complacency, moral relativism and political drift.

What is at issue is the fundamental Christian truth (Christ’s temptation in the desert) about freedom and moral responsibility being always individual. Any attempt to absolve an individual through all forms of collective responsibility, its privatization and nationalization, always in the name of common good, leeds the individual and societies to self-destruction.

In fact, this is about blurring the divide between good and evil. It does not matter whether those are hard or soft methods of such absolution, what the forms and objectives are or when those seeds of institutionalized conformism were sowed. The outcome is pretty much the same, whether we take the collapse of the Soviet system or the present crisis of liberal capitalism, whether it was Russian nihilism or Western revolution, whether in the name of the dictatorship of proletariat, or the Grande Terreur of the French revolution, or the German unity and subsequent patriotism and militarism, or the Reformation, which in the words of Fedor Tyutchev “made people judges in the own case”. This perceived humanism, as an appropriation of the divine moral law which is thus destroyed, is the source of corrupting influence. It does not matter what kind of human activities loses its moral foundation, be it politics or “financial alchemy” in the past decades. Moral responsibility is always about questioning the questionable to the best of one’s own ability and intelligence, whether benefiting from it or merely allowing it to happen. Whistleblowing, leaking documents to the media and resigning in protest are contemporary manifestations of this freedom of conscience. 

One may appeal to the forces of market element, but the market is a set of institutions created by man. For example, someone puts poisonous financial products on the market, somebody else looks the other way or doesn’t feel like regulating or thinking through the consequences of such innovations. And if the latter may amount to economic disruption at the scale of civil war, which was the case of the Great Depression? Anyway markets ought not to strive equally when nations prosper and when they go down the drain.

In a sense, European humanism, with its by-products of political morality, political expediency and other forms of managing the truth and individual conscience, has been a common denominator for the West and the East at the time of the Cold War. Dealing with the consequences within the broader European family makes for a great unifying goal for all of us. Perhaps, it is here that sacrifices of people like Sir Thomas More and many Russians, who stood against tyranny to the bitter end, will find their ultimate vindication.

The European society as a whole is facing a crisis. And it seems that unless we understand its reasons, it would be next to impossible to know what to do. And the factor of individual moral responsibility may be crucial in that analysis. At least, when Russian philosophers tried to make sense of our Revolution they talked about dechristianization. Vassily Rozanov wrote in his Apocalypse of our time in 1918: “colossal voids have formed in the European humanity (including Russia) of the previous Christianity, and everything falls into them: thrones, classes, social estates, labour, wealth”. Christianity may not be an issue, but how to explain that neither the Reformation, nor the Enlightenment, nor rationalism, nor democracy have helped to prevent this crisis as well as the previous ones? Maybe, it is a case of finding some other, more solid foundation, the one that wouldn’t discourage individual moral responsibility?




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