This Saturday, the journal Éléments organized its colloquium in Paris “Russie : à l’est, du nouveau ?” Among the invitees present, there was Zakhar Prilepin, who spoke for a long time, in Russian, with a translator at his side, before a full room – nearly 250 people, many of whom came from the Russian diaspora in France.
Zakhar Prilepin, whose real name is Evgenii Nikolaevitch Prilepin, was born in 1975 in a village in the Ryazan region. A journalist, linguist, and Russian politician, since 1996 a member of the National Bolshevik Party, and the Other Russia coalition, he opposed Putin and the liberal and pro-European orientation of Russia. In 2014, with Russian Spring and the return of Crimea, followed by the start of the independence war in Donbass, Russian power became more interventionist in the economy, more conservative and patriotic, in unison with civil society. Zakhar Prilepin, who became a war correspondent in Donbass and gathered humanitarian aid for its population, abandoned his opposition to Putin. An author of books – many of which have been translated into French, he is also a journalist on Russian television (Ren TV, Tsargrad TV) and has written for many print and web Russian media outlets (Ogoniok, Svobodnaia Pressa, Izvestia, Novaya Gazeta).
After his speech, we met with Zakhar Prilepin.
Breizh Info : Zakhar Prilepin, what do you think about Putin today, to whom you were opposed in the past?
Zakhar Prilepin : Putin gave Russia a big chance to have a new history. I hope that he will change the liberal course of the economy, set the bar a bit further left. On this subject, it’s will be important to know who will replace Ulyukayev [the economic development minister, a convinced liberal, fired after having been implicated in a corruption scandal].
Breizh Info : The German newspaper Die Press announced in a recent article that Russia is less dependent on petroleum revenue and it will renew economic growth in 2017. Furthermore, it is today experiencing a new industrial and agricultural revolution, with numerous factories opening. Is the economic crisis finished?
Zakhar Prilepin : There is no visible economic crisis and far fewer criminal or ethnic gangs in the streets of Russian cities, as was the case in the 1990s… or today in the big European cities. That said, it’s evident that the population was impoverished during the 2015-2016 crisis, but the social attitudes towards the crisis changed. Increasingly people leave cities in order return to country, while rural exodus was important from the immediate post-war era until the 2000s.
Breizh Info : The demographic statistics for Russia from January to August 2016 were just published. They testify to a natural balance of births and death of 8,200 people, with a birth rate stronger than a mortality rate in 28 regions – including the rural regions which were in decline until now – and decrease in abortions by a third in four years, from 735,000 thousand in 2011 to 447,000 in 2015. Is this the end of the Russian deep demographic decline?
Zakhar Prilepin : Certainly the situation for agriculture and thus the rural regions was improved thanks to the sanctions and the Russian embargo on products from Western countries. But the possibility of stopping this embargo worries Siberian peasants who demonstrate their strong opposition to the end of Russian sanctions. Yet, there is other good news: in relation to the years 1990-2000, where the objective of those who held power was to enrich themselves to the maximum, the people in power have matured and realized that there is no substitute for Russia. A self-preservation mechanism was put in place, which made it possible to dismiss the rotten and those who were determined to serve a master other than the Russian people.
Breizh Info : Do you think with Russian Spring, in 2014, a new generation of leaders will enter politics and give an extra push towards more patriotic values, more socially conservative and interventionist in the economy?
Zakhar Prilepin : During Russian Spring, there were many soldiers, who were invested in society. Once Russian Spring ended, they returned to the army. There are relatively few political leaders on that level, with the exception of the former governor of Sevastopol, Alexeï Tchaly.
Breizh Info : And the prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya, very popular and for whom they predict a grand political future?
Zakhar Prilepin : She’s not really on that level outside of Crimea.
Breizh Info : What do you think about Ukraine’s future?
Zakhar Prilepin : By sending Russia away and launching a murderous civil war in the East, the Ukrainian power thinks it will become the locomotive of progress. But, they are at the back of the train now, dependent on the good will of Trump. If that means that the United States is no longer concerned with supporting the power in Kiev, if he says it’s in the Russian zone of influence, they’re washed up.
Breizh Info : On this subject, what do you think about Trump’s election?
Zakhar Prilepin : The American public has affirmed with force that it is white, conservative, Christian, gun bearing, and it wants to address its internal problems instead of those in the world.
Breizh Info : That’s good news for Russia?
Zakhar Prilepin : More than the election of Clinton of course. But Trump, as a good American, will try to divide Russia and China, for example by giving Russia everything it wants on the condition that it doesn’t form a bloc with Beijing. Or by pressing where it hurts, that is to say on the hypothetical possibility that the Chinese invade the Russian far east.
Breizh Info : The neighboring Chinese overflow into the great Russian emptiness there. Do you think that could happen?
Zakhar Prilepin : Honestly, no. The arrival of the Chinese in the Russian far-east is not so massive, it’s even stabilized these last few years. On the contrary, the Chinese migrate in mass towards the South, so it’s rather Taiwan that has to worry about it.
Breizh Info : What is the future of the EU after Trump’s election?
Zakhar Prilepin : Trump is concentrated on the United States itself, and will disengage from supporting the EU. He will notably encourage the European countries to pay for their own defense. Without the influence and the commanding power of the United States and Great Britain, the EU will have much less influence in the future. But that, it’s above all Germany’s problem.
Interviewer: Louis-Benoît Greffe