Moscow News
February 26-March 4, 2003
Mother of God Stuck in the Snow
Chingiz Aitmatov,


interviewed by MN's
Yuri Vasilyev

Your novel The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years introduced the term
"mankurtism" into Russian. You were the first Soviet writer to talk, in The
Scaffold, about drug addiction. The Cassandra Brand raised the issue of
human cloning and its implications years before the first human clone was
produced. What should we expect from your upcoming book?

I am getting a bit superstitious, so I'd rather not talk about it yet. My
work as Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the EU takes up all of my time. Most of
my plans do not go much beyond the planning stage. Some time ago I had
excerpts from my yet-to-be-finished novel, The Mother of God in the Snow,
published in the press. My readers have since been asking me, "Where is
your Mother of God?" And I tell them: "Still there, in the snow." And this
is a real drama to me: I have plenty of viable ideas that I am unable to
translate into reality.

Is it because today diplomacy is so much more important to you than
literature that you cannot take a break to finish a novel?

In theory, there is nothing to stop me from doing this. But there is also
the practice, the pragmatism of life. Whereas in the past, a novel was
published in editions of up to three million copies, making it a good
source of income even with the measly royalties of those times, now
printruns rarely exceed 5,000 to 10,000 copies. One has to get on with the
daily grind of everyday life; one has a family to support.

So, is the ambassadorship just a source of livelihood?

Not only that. I got involved with diplomacy at a time when newly
independent states were emerging that lacked representatives to work in the
foreign-policy sphere. On the other hand, my sense of patriotism is a major
factor in this work. I have a pretty good knowledge of Europe, especially
Germany and France, where my books are published and republished. This
facilitates my diplomatic mission.

Should a new law on the Russian language be adopted, would you be prepared
to stop using foreign words like, say, "ecology" and "humanism"?

The hullabaloo that the Russian parliament created around the Russian
language cannot leave me indifferent. We had a similar experience in
Kyrgyzstan, in the early 1990s, when they tried banning words like "radio"
- but, thank God, they thought better of it before it was too late.

Every language should seek to integrate with other languages. In this
sense, Russian in fact serves this integration: By joining it, within the
CIS, we gain extra scope.

It seems that you believe in globalization?

You are probably right. I am not afraid of it.

And of antiglobalists?

Neither. If anything, I feel a little sorry for them: They have yet to
understand that globalization is a new stage of world history. Sure, it is
about moving into new markets, monopolizing the existing markets, and
deriving a benefit from all of this. But globalization is also about the
need to integrate into worldwide civilization despite ideological and
religious differences. Unless we do, we will get stuck in the third world -
perhaps even the fourth or fifth world - regardless of how big or small our
countries may be.

Do you see any impediments in your country's path toward Western-style
globalization? Say, the Chinese influence?

China is a separate and self-sufficient mainland. Yet I am not aware of its
influence as a world factor despite our extensive exposure to it. Moscow is
much farther away from Bishkek than is Beijing, but Moscow is vitally
important to us. We are part of the Eurasian model of thinking.

Eurasianism is a moot concept.

That's right. Even so, our common Eurasian essence is still there. As for
China, imagine that there is a large, magnificent painting: You can admire
it, but you cannot live in it.

I know from experience: My books are published both in Russia and in China,
but I do not know that they have had any response on the other side of the
Great Wall. They may have had some response, but it is still very important
for our culture - I am talking not only about Kyrgyzstan but the region as
a whole - to fit into the Russian context. There is nothing, however, that
links us to China. Strange, isn't it? It is our nearest neighbor, but there
is no link. Yet this is how it is.

Are you not concerned that when China has a population not of 1.5 billion
but two billion, this link will manifest itself through expansion?

By then the world will have worked out certain laws regulating the
existence of nations big and small, so that nobody is absorbed by anybody.
What I am saying is only my own perception - my utopia. But unless we come
to this understanding, we will end up as one homogeneous mass. No one will
benefit from this. In this respect the EU model is the optimal and viable
form of cohabitation of different nations, languages, and cultures. Thanks
to the EU, Europe has been living without wars for more than half a century

You do not see conflicts in Yugoslavia as wars?

This is a different matter. Yugoslavia has never been part of the EU: It is
on the fringe of Europe. Had Milosevic not given cause for war, there would
have been no war. Now it is too late to speculate on the subject of whether
it should or should not have been bombed. Of course the Yugoslav problem
does affect Europe and the world at large. Nonetheless, the EU gives hope
that similar continental communities will also evolve in other parts of the

Do you get the impression that your mission as a humanist is doomed?

It would not be half so bad if this applied only to my mission. Humanistic
values are in a state of general crisis. Would you say that old authors,
who offered a particular humanistic vision, are in great demand now? I hear
that a certain female thriller writer received a $9 million advance for a
book about Jack the Ripper: This is what foots the bill today. Moreover,
modern religions have become too conceited and patronizing. Religious
consciousness - I am not separating out Islam, Christianity, etc. - is in
crisis. I have no doubt about this.

When did you come to this conclusion?

Last year, when a person who had converted from Islam to another faith died
in one Kyrgyz village, and the relatives carrying his coffin to a cemetery
were blocked by a wild mob of local Muslims. So his relatives had to take
his body to a place several hundred kilometers away to be buried. If we are
unable to make way for each other in death, what about in life then?

MN File
Fact box
Chingiz Torekulovich Aitmatov, born 1928, to the family of a party
functionary who was executed in 1937; at various times worked as a
livestock specialist, Pravda correspondent, and editor of the Inostrannaya
Literatura monthly; author of Jamila; The White Steamship; Farewell,
Gulsary; The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years; The Scaffold; The
Cassandra Brand, and other novels; since 1990, in the diplomatic service:
Soviet (later Kyrgyz) ambassador to Luxembourg; currently ambassador
extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to Benelux
and France; opinion polls position Chingiz Aitmatov among the three most
influential politicians in Kyrgyzstan.

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