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Russian theater stalwart sees little change

Yuri Lyubimov, now 93, was one of the early Soviet dissidents and ended up in exile, stripped of his citizenship. He returned just before the Soviet collapse, and he's dismayed by the scant progress since.

November 11, 2010|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

Very little has changed since 1985, almost a quarter of a century! And this is a real problem. Something is just beginning to move there. It is of course nothing close to an upheaval the way it was during the thaw of the '60s. People are silent. They are tired and they are simply scared. They don't want to get a stick on the head, be thrown into a van and beaten up.

But something tells me [the authorities] are under pressure now. Why else should they so roughly disperse opposition demonstrations? Five hundred people came out and [the authorities] send a thousand and a half punitive troops!

What about the proclaimed fight against corruption?

They fight corruption, but very selectively. The problem is that we have so much oil. Once they dip themselves in it, they find it very difficult to wash it off.

Why do many in Russia still regard America as an enemy despite the declaration of a reset in the relations?

They can't exist without an enemy! If they have an enemy, then everything falls into place and everything can be explained, from the military budget to other things. And the more powerful, the stronger the enemy is, the better. Everyone knows that we have mighty weapons too, but they are no match for the [ U.S.] military machine. Russia, just like its predecessor, is lagging behind, always trying to catch up with somebody.... So much envy and so much aggression! And this constant need to protect ourselves from somebody! From whom? No one is attacking us! Strong countries are indifferent toward us.

You used to have endless problems with Soviet bureaucrats before. Is it easier with Russian bureaucracy?

They sometimes congratulate me. Sometimes hang awards on me. Recently they called me from the president's office and said they would invite me [to the Kremlin]. Here comes to mind a similar episode with Alexander Isayevich [Solzhenitsyn] whom Reagan invited to dinner when he already lived in exile. This is what he said in response, "With pleasure, but only when we can talk one on one; as for dinner I prefer to have it at home."

When I meet with them they usually exclaim, "Oh, you were the gulp of freedom!" And then they say, "Sit down please," which sounds quite more sinister to me. [In Russian "to sit" has a connotation "to be in prison."]

All things considered, I am an alien to them. They need me only as some decorative element of the facade they build here. They want me as a billboard. Otherwise they don't need me at all. They prefer a theater of marionettes.

How do you feel about your work now?

The public stopped looking for politics in the theater.... People are struck with apathy. They come for entertainment. It looks as if nothing is forbidden anymore. But it is only an appearance. In reality only some superficial things are allowed, such as idle talk. People are indifferent now. They are tired. Their hopes have been dashed....

You know, as they like to say, here we are born to make Kafka a reality. We don't have a heart and we don't have a soul. But we love to talk about a mysterious Russian soul. It is better not to dig into this or such astonishing things may come out. Nothing is ever enough for us.

What we did in the first 20 years is no longer interesting to the public. Our theater has become just one of other theaters. But even in these conditions we preserve our face, I think. Some people say that I am degrading, that in the past I directed good productions and now I am staging boring things. But I am doing what is interesting to me.

Back in March I tendered my resignation. I am fed up with everything we have just discussed. Then I got a phone call from up above and I was told to hold off for a while. "It is not the right time," the caller said. Everywhere abroad, including America, it was much easier for me to work because of order and discipline. I wouldn't mind to live in America when I retire. It is a good country for old men.

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