From his home in Istanbul, the Turkish Nobel Prize-winning writer speaks about the war: “There is no democracy when it comes to ‘domination’. A Third World War? If it will be avoided, it is because the Cold War map is still valid “
“If there is no Third World War it is because the Cold War map is still valid, which means that the will of the Ukrainian people will not be respected.” He is lucid and pained Orhan Pamuk. In front of him the images of death broadcast on TV flow continuously: «It is a medieval war. I don’t sleep there at night, ”he says in a video link from his house in Istanbul.
And in this exclusive interview with the Corriere della Sera
the Turkish writer, Nobel Prize for Literature, feels the duty to make his contribution as an intellectual in times of war. And he sounds the alarm about the effects of polarization: “If this Cold War continues, free speech will die on both sides. In the West many people will no longer read Dostoevsky, in Russia Hemingway will not be read ”
Will we get to the world conflict?
“Sometimes I really think so and I don’t sleep at night but at other times I don’t and the reason is that both Putin and Biden respect the Cold War map. Russian dominance in Europe is recognized by the United States and that is why a No-fly zone over Ukraine will never be decided, on the other hand Russia has shown on many occasions that it recognizes the domination of the United States in the Middle East. So when I say that there will be no third world war it is because the cold war map is still valid, which means that the will of the Ukrainian people is not and will not be respected. Ukrainians have chosen many times in their elections to be part of Western democracy and liberal society, but this is not allowed because the great powers do not want to eliminate the old map. However, it must be remembered that that old equilibrium is now broken: Poland has joined NATO as have Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Yet the will of the Ukrainians will be ignored ».
Do you believe that the EU, NATO and the United States are doing enough to defend Ukraine?
«Every evening when I watch TV and surf on Twitter my heart cries for the Ukrainian people: how much suffering there is, how cruel it is, how medieval it is. Putin’s war is a medieval war we must remember what Umberto Eco writes about the return of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, what he predicted is happening. Concepts such as “domination” or “spheres of influence” are medieval arguments in which there is no democracy and the free choice of the people is not respected. Not only is the will of the Ukrainians ignored, but the citizens are cruelly bombed and killed ”.
You say the Middle Ages are returning. Others think more of the twentieth century which was characterized by conflicts between great powers.
“It is true, these days I have often thought of Munich in 1938, when Great Britain ceded a large part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s Germany in the hope of thus ensuring peace. This story is told in the second volume of Jean Paul Sartre’s novel The roads of freedom. Actually Obama made exactly the same mistake looking the other way in 2014 when Putin took over Crimea ”.
There are people who say neither with Putin nor with NATO.
«I disagree with this statement, Russia is the invading country. Before the Second World War many good people defended peace, they shouted “peace, peace, peace” but when Hitler started to invade they no longer said peace, they said: “This is Hitler’s invasion.” They identified the invader. Putin and NATO are not the same thing. Putin is invading a country, destroying a country. So they are not the same ».
Anti-Russian sentiment is growing in the West. What can be done to stop it?
“I am very critical of what Putin is doing, but I will continue to teach Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in my class at Columbia University. I’m sure my students will come in large numbers. Being angry about what Putin is doing is one thing, but we should avoid becoming racist towards the Russians, we shouldn’t really blame the Russian culture which is a great culture. Unfortunately this is happening. I’m sorry when I hear that a Russian cultural event or a lecture on Dostoevsky has been canceled, this happens in New York but it can happen in small American universities or somewhere else. “
More than almost any other author, you have written about different cultures and how they could come to understand each other. Now West and East seem so divided. How much is a clash between two different ways of seeing life?
«We must try to understand both sides but the suffering of the Ukrainian people comes first and I want to emphasize this. But when you understand the two quarrels your opinions diverge, apparently there is no solution, I hope lives will be saved, I hope Putin doesn’t bomb Ukraine so much, I hope they find a way out ».
Turkey maintains close ties with Russia and Ukraine. It is opposed to the Russian invasion but does not approve of European and American sanctions. Could Erdogan play an important role in reaching an agreement?
“No I do not think so. Turkey closed the Dardanelles by applying the Montreux Convention. Unfortunately in the Turkish media this is seen as an opportunity to do business. From the series: we can sell things to Ukraine, we are friends with both Ukraine and Russia. Which is partly true, but war is never a job opportunity, I don’t like that way of speaking. I think the matter will eventually be resolved between Putin and Biden. Erdogan and Turkey see this as an opportunity to announce to the world that Turkey is a loyal member of NATO. Although Erdogan’s populism has not been respectful of NATO for a long time. But right now he has aligned himself with NATO’s position, we must not forget that Russia is the old enemy of the Ottoman Empire. Hungary is also on the side of NATO, as are the Baltic countries. Everyone is afraid, so everyone needs a NATO umbrella. Yes, we can be critical of what NATO is doing here and there, but if we go back to the Middle Ages we also need more protection from NATO ».
Is it difficult to be a wartime intellectual?
“It is. Every day I feel bad for Ukrainians and what do I do? Anything. I remember Susan Sontag who went to Bosnia when it was bombed or André Marlow who went to Bangladesh and Pakistan where he joined the fight. Understand the spirit, understand that you have to be modest in wartime. To calm people down, and that’s what I want to do with this interview, you have to show that you understand both sides but never forget the suffering of the Ukrainian people. “
This too is a war of words. There was a lot of propaganda. Lavrov said there is no invasion as if what we see is not real or is not what it appears.
«Yes this is terrible, it is the hatred of social media. the old liberal newspapers are losing popularity, now everyone has their own medium, their own newspaper, we thought the internet would make people more informed, more precise, more objective. The opposite happened, everyone follows their own national line. Technology should have been the way to get more information, unfortunately this has not united the world but has scandalously widened the divisions. Seeing what the Russian people think about this war is truly depressing. Or read on New York Times
that Chinese bloggers are supporting the Russians has frustrated and disappointed me ».
Three reporters have already been killed in the war, yet journalism is sometimes challenged. Because?
«Because the media that everyone reads, from New York You
mes at the Frankfurter Allgemeinefrom Le Monde to the Corriere della Sera, unfortunately they are losing their power. Now people are getting information on the internet, they don’t trust journalists, they trust their friends on Facebook who know nothing about anything. And instead of reading newspapers where there is money, control and verification of facts, they prefer social media where, as Umberto Eco would have said, there is a new medieval fantasy. But we have to be strong, we have to keep repeating that there is an objective truth and I am a novelist so for me in the end there is no objective truth and you have to understand all the parts. I cannot predict what will happen in the future, but it is very disappointing, very heartbreaking: the cold war is returning, I am sure the West will continue to punish Russia and I am sure it will try to impose itself. Even the smallest news of peace makes me happy, I want to believe that it will come ».
Isn’t this also a question of human rights? The right of the Ukrainian people to have a country, the right of the Russian people to protest, the right to free speech.
“Yes of course. Woodrow Wilson said nations are free to choose their own destiny but that is not happening now. The right of the Ukrainian people to have a country, the right of the Russian people to protest, yes freedom of speech is called into question but the war is not about this but about domination, it is a medieval war in which the world is divided, two parties are confronting each other ignoring the will of the Ukrainian people. The world is moving towards division into two poles: China and Russia, authoritarian countries that forge alliances, while the free will of Western Europe is strengthened. I’m sure the European Union will be stronger as well as NATO, but is this what we want? No. Indeed, if this Cold War continues, free speech will die on both sides. In the West many people will no longer read Dostoevsky, in Russia Hemingway will not be read. I don’t want that to happen. That way I don’t like this polarized world. “
According to some sources, China may decide to help Russia by providing new weapons. What is Beijing’s goal? Invade Taiwan?
“I don’t know, but what I see is that China feels rejected by the West and sees Russia as a friend. And this new world is upsetting me. “
The war is before our eyes how can people deny the reality of the videos and images that come from Ukraine?
“In the first days of the war I saw horrible videos on twitter and this makes you emotional, makes you angry, it’s like reading a realistic novel, even more realistic than any novel. On the other hand, however, through these videos you do not realize the general picture, this you can only do by reading the serious newspapers that are still alive but are losing power. We thought that humanity could express itself through the internet, we thought we were freer but somehow we are also prisoners of the web. But we must not forget that repressive countries want to control the internet. There are also such requests in Turkey and in Putin’s Russia ».