Grand Prize of the French Academy, the book “The Wizard of the Kremlin” appeared at the end of last year in French and Italian. The European public devastates bookstores, even a pirated version in Russian circulates. It’s about to go on sale Spanish translation. The author is of Italian origin and a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris. This interview was conducted in Geneva, in French, during the International Film Festival and Human Rights Forum (FIFDH).
How could you summarize the content of your novel, which is so topical today due to the war in Ukraine, to present it to the Spanish-speaking public, who will soon be able to read it?
The book is the story of Vladimir Putin’s 20 years of power in Russia, seen through the eyes of a very particular character from his environment, who is not a former KGB, nor a businessman, an “oligarch”. He is someone who attended the Moscow Academy of Dramatic Art, who writes novels under a pseudonym, knows Western culture very well, and is going to use it against the West. He is the head of Putin’s propaganda and is going to play his role as an artistic performance. It is the look of a very special character in Russian history of the last 20 years…
How did the idea of this book come to you in your intellectual career, with others previously published, all the essays?
Before I wrote essays and one is entitled “The Engineers of Chaos”, about the masters of propaganda and political communication. Investigating I discovered the fictional character in this book, who exists in Russia and is called Vladislav Surkov, who seemed very fictional to me.
Will Ukraine be able to beat Russia with conventional weapons on its territory before the end of the year?
In press statements you are credited with saying that the first manuscript of the book, only you could understand it, apparently a text mixing Italian with French…
Yes, indeed, a curious language, a mixture of French and Italian. I had written my two previous essays in French…the essay is somewhat more rational. Although French is not my first language, I could write directly in French. The novel is more emotional, personal, and fell into Italian from time to time. I made a first Franco-Italian version. Then separate them. I did two original versions, one in French and one in Italian.
You said when presenting the book here in Geneva that you had not foreseen the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, that you found it in Vladimir Putin’s statement announcing it on that day…
The book talks about the war in Ukraine simply because that war had already existed since 2014 and the central character of the book was involved. I had not foreseen this new phase. The reception of the book has changed. It gave it much more breadth since the theme was Putin’s power, to enter the head of that character. At the same time, the war made the topic more current, it changed its reading. The book is a reflection on power and its mechanisms, which are obviously very strong in Russia, but which exist in all societies in their contexts and is not simply a current affairs book.
Allegedly Putin foresaw conquering kyiv in four days, and not long. Failing to quickly seize central power in Ukraine, Putin redoubled the offensive turning it into a major incursion, the scope of which would not be fully defined. What is his reflection of his current situation? Did you learn anything new from Putin by observing the evolution of hostilities?
The quick time that Putin envisioned did not happen that way. Today Putin bet for a long time, because deep down and despite everything, he is consolidating his power inside Russia. Abroad and in Ukraine, he does not have enough forces to impose order. He thought that he could impose order on him in the Ukraine, and he did not succeed, but he has the strength to impose chaos. Putin is very strong in strategy and in managing chaos, while we in the West have a very difficult time dealing with that. Despite everything, I believe that the situation is very uncertain.
From Geneva, Juan Gasparini.
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