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A Letter from Russia: "They have deprived me not only of the future, but also of the present, and of the past."

During our tours in Russia, we have encountered countless actors, directors, artists. Their repression is increasing, the virus of the totalitarian system is crushing an entire people. We share a letter from Olga Karlova, an actress at theatre X in X, which we have received in these days.

Foto: Markus Zohner / PRO LITTERIS

The Sublimation of War

by Olga Karlova1, translated from Russian by Yelena Kuznetsova

Dear Markus! I thank you immensely for your message and thought: it is a lifebuoy in the surrounding swamp.

Absolute isolation? No. There remain two or three friends with whom to vent bitterness and hatred, but unfortunately, the despair remains. It is now clear that the malady has struck not merely many individuals but an entire nation.

As our writer Dovlatov said: „We curse indefinitely comrade Stalin and, obviously, with all good reason. Yet, I want to ask: who wrote four million reports?"

I have withdrawn from the theatre - there, too, “Z-patriots”, informers of their own colleagues with whom I can no longer be in the same structure, have revealed themselves.

Yet life goes on. One of the strange effects is the marginalisation - or if you will, sublimation of the war: you see, for example, the recent film “The Zone of Interest” about the everyday and welcoming life of a family of the Auschwitz commander.

We cannot go on with that complex of incurable guilt, and therefore, the brain puts this guilt complex on pause; we frequent (and make) theatre. But one cannot sleep at night. And I reread, with new optics, Heinrich Böll or, for the first time, Hannah Arendt, to see that, painfully, sooner or later, everything ends. It saddens me that we will no longer see this end.

I have been deprived not only of the future but also of the present, in a completely material sense. But how could I work as an actress knowing that among my colleagues on stage and behind the scenes, there are Putin supporters who would denounce you at the first opportunity? Do you remember Marina2 who translated for you? Among the many professions that have disappeared is the interpreter - not because of Google Translator, but because Russia’s international activity is exclusively focused on the bombardments of Kyiv.

But the most dreadful thing is that they also deprived me of the past with the Victory of 1945, with all the outstanding achievements, cathedrals, writers, poets, scientists, athletes, Gagarin and all the astronaut dogs: after 24 February 2022, I no longer have the right to call upon them, let alone be proud of them. In essence, they have stolen my homeland, life, past, and future.

Just today, I was so impressed by the reasoning of a contemporary Russian essayist, Ns., that I report here. He adds new nuances to the usual discourse on “resentment” and debunks the myth of the “mysterious Russian soul” so pampered by even Western intellectuals:

Three damages of Russian literature:

  • For an entire century, Russian literature has scoffed and humiliated those who constitute the base of a normal society: bureaucrat, officer, priest, entrepreneur, merchant - in general, the bourgeois.
  • Dostoevsky’s ‚Inverted clichés‘: a thief is honest, a murderer is a walking conscience, a libertine drunkard is a philosopher, a prostitute is a Great Soul, and an idiot is more intelligent than everyone else.
  • Constant conviction… and persuasion of ourselves of being ‘special’. No law was written for us: neither European, nor Slavic, nor Christian, nor standard… like international law. Why? Because we are so unique, separate, different from anyone else? Russian literature has long cultivated this perennial pubertal complex."

Even my husband is tired and fed up with today’s theatrical reality and will retire after the X theatre festival. Fewer and fewer people in theatre are capable of creating sense and values. Those who remain and are not yet behind bars (like the director Berkovich and the playwright Petrijchuk) cannot work.

Anyway… thank you once again.

Dixi et animam levavi.3


  1. Names and references have been changed ↩︎

  2. Names and references have been changed ↩︎

  3. I have spoken and I have lifted my spirit ↩︎

This article has originally been written and published in Italian.

This is the original version:

Lettera dalla Russia: La sublimazione della guerra
Durante le nostre tournée in Russia abbiamo incontrato innumerevoli attori, registi, artisti. La loro repressione aumenta, il virus del sistema totalitario sta stroncando un intero popolo. Condividiamo una lettera di Olga Karlova*, attrice al teatro X in X, che abbiamo ricevuto in questi giorni.

It has also been published on (in english):

A Letter from Russia: The Sublimation of War
During our tours in Russia, we have encountered countless actors, directors, artists. Their repression is increasing, the virus of the…


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