As Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko once wrote, “a poet in Russia is more than a poet”. And what about Belarus? And what about someone who was decorated by the most important literary award in the world? On the other hand, it looks like the epoch, when men of letters were “regents of our dreams” and their influence could be compared to the influence of people in power, is long gone.

Yes, Nobel Prize for Svetlana Alexievich caused sincere and heated joy. But publicly it was not displayed by millions or even hundreds of thousands of people. And what do millions think about this event?

During the December 2015 IISEPS survey we asked our respondents the question on attitude to the Nobel Prize received by their countrywoman. The distribution of answers to the closed question with three variants of answers was as follows: “a source of pride, international recognition of Alexievich’s talent” – 57%; “an insignificant event, another international prize among many others” – 20%; “this is an attempt of the West to harm Belarus and Russia” – 10%; 13% of respondent’s did not answer the question.

57% of adult population equals to almost 4 million Belarusians. This is not just Facebook community “Celebrating Nobel together” participants, not just a narrow circle of connoisseurs of literature.

Though when it comes to mass display of emotions like this, one can always ask if people know something about the source of their pride. There is such thing as national solidarity. Belarusians is historically a nation which was not spoiled by victories, and here is one. Here is Darya Domracheva skiing faster than others and shooting better than others, and she has won. Hooray! One of ours has won! Alexievich was writing and writing, and here she is, receiving a prize. Hooray! One of ours has won! And what was she writing? Whatever…

I haven’t seen any data about Belarus, but Levada-Center conducted a survey in Russia right after the news about the prize were declared, and it turned out that nearly two thirds of Russian never heard of the Belarusian author, and 17% heard about her, but never read her books. It’s difficult to extrapolate these results on Belarus because of several “but’s”. First, Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian author, and people usually know better their kinsfolk. Second, for many years running Alexievich is not published in Belarus, although she is published in Russia. If Belarusian reader wants to get her books, they will get it from Russia or from internet. Third, Russia is big, and the fact that her books are published in Moscow doesn’t mean that they are known somewhere near Chelyabinsk.

However, it’s possible to extrapolate and recognize that many Belarusians are proud of Alexievich’s Nobel Prize only because they are proud of success of their compatriot. But certain peculiarities of the situation don’t let us explain everything by this simple mechanism.

Russian mass media never wrote that Domracheva is Russophobe, or that she is not really a sportswoman, or that she was decorated with a medal only to do a bad turn to Putin. All of the above was written about Alexievich. It was written both by propagandists and by not the least authors like Z. Prilepin, E. Limonov, T. Tolstaya. Certainly, this wasn’t comparable to bullying campaign against Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn after they received their Nobel Prizes, but these voices sounded louder that those that were expressing the opposite opinion. However, Muscovite “ew” didn’t influence Belarusians’ opinion.

One should also remember public joy of President A. Lukashenko caused by Domracheva’s victories. Regarding Alexievich he was much more restrained, to put it mildly. His reactions varied from kind ascertaining of Prize to a criticism that it doesn’t befit to trash one’s own Motherland. President’s opinion is likely important for many Belarusians. However, not in this case.

If we look into arguments on Bynet, the Belarusian segment of internet, we’ll see that the main line of polarization was purely political. There was another one, related to national identity, but the mainstream was: “are you for the white or for the red?” so to say. The author of pentology on “the red man” is likely against “red men”, so the fights between “the whites” and “the reds”, between those who are pro-West and pro-Russia, broke out.

Meanwhile, Bynet is luckily not all Belarus. And not only because all Belarus is much bigger, but because all Belarus is differently structured, it thinks and evaluates differently.

This is confirmed even by socio-demographic parameters of the group of those who declared themselves proud of Alexievich’s prize answering the IISEPS’ question. The fact that women are more proud than men (63% vs. 50%) is natural: the winner is not only a compatriot, but also a “sister”. Less understandable are the age differences. The biggest share is registered among elderly people, 60 years old and older; the lowest share (53%) is registered among young people between 18 and 29. But elderly people are kind of “red men” themselves! For some of them she is a Soviet author from their youth. Even if she’s anti-Soviet, she is Soviet. Or maybe it’s because people grown wise with experience are better capable to understand horrifying books of Alexievich.

Another paradox is relation to education. The highest level of pride was registered among respondents with primary (61%) and higher (63%). The most simple and the most complex people are together here. The most simple are simply not educated enough to take into account attacks against Alexievich; as for people with higher education, they are educated enough to perceive these attacks critically.

When we look into the dependency between attitude to Alexievich’s Nobel and political setups of respondents, paradoxes become “curiouser and curiouser”, as Alice in Wonderland used to say.

Do you support integration with Russia or with the EU? 59% of Belarusians who prefer Russia are proud of Alexievich. Among those who prefer the EU the share is lower – 54%. How can that be? In internet everything is different, converse, tougher. And here we almost can see no difference, and supporters of integration with Russia are even more proud of the “Russophobe” than Eurointegration adepts.

Because this is not internet. This is society.

Or here is another sacramental question oh the last two years – “Is Crimea ours?” 61% of those who assess annexation of Crimea as an imperialistic usurpation are proud of Alexievich’s Prize; 57% of those who interpret this event as a restitution of Russian lands share this opinion. The difference here is quite understandable at least, but it isunexpectedly insignificant, taking into account the author’s own position on this problem. “Crimeaisours” (i.e. Russians’), but Alexievich is our pride according to more than a half of Belarusian “crimeaisoursists”.

And finally, the President, who gave his important opinion. 55% of those who trust and 59% of those who distrust him are proud of Alexievich. What’s wrong with these people? Liters of virtual blood flow on virtual barricades in social networks and forums, and they are peaceful? And this works into both directions. Those who like Europe and the West must be proud of the Prize given by the West one and all. Nope, they are proud, but not one and all. And vice versa: how people, supporting Russia, can be proud of someone who “slanders” Russia? Well, they can. Maybe they don’t consider her as a slanderer, maybe there is another reason.

Nevertheless, some politically charged questions do influence the attitude to Alexievich’s Nobel. Say, among supporters of a Russian airbase in Belarus only 51% of respondents are proud of Alexievich, while this share among its opponents is much bigger – 69%. Attitude to Russian mass media also affects evaluations. But the dependency is quite paradoxical here too. 45% of those, who believe that Russian mass media news programs are completely objective, are proud of the author (this is actually quite a few). The share of people feeling proud of Alexievich among people, who think that Russian mass media are “mostly objective”, amounts to 62%; “mostly biased” – 58%, “completely biased” – 60%. In fact the influence (a very relative one) can only be seen in the first group of people believing every word of Moscow. All other groups express the same attitude to Alexievich.

All these paradoxes need an explanation. It would be natural if level of pride was quite high among A. Lukashenko’s supporters and those who are pro-Russian in any sense (at least because of the aforementioned mechanism of national solidarity), but was even higher among pro-Western part of Belarusian society. It seems that shared political views should push to a bigger sympathy towards the author and her success.

Why doesn’t it happen? Why political antagonists are almost equally proud of Alexievich? By the look of things, it’s due to additional counter-factors, factors that turn a part of “Euro-Belarusians” away from the winner and attract a part of “Belo-Russians” to her. For some of those, who see the West as Saint Graal, and our stamping grounds as gloomy horror, Alexievich is too Soviet, she herself is a “red man” that she damns and loves. And they only damn him. So what’s to be proud of, according to them? “Soviet” exotics? Such perception of the author, her work and her outlook takes away a part of “votes” from pro-Western Belarus.

On the other hand a similar mechanism adds some “votes”. “Red men” feel that she loves them too. Well, yes, according to them, when she talks politics, she says wrong things, but in general she’s one of ours, ain’t it? Yeah, she doesn’t love us, she damns us, but do we love ourselves? Don’t we damn ourselves?

Result of these oppositely directed political and psychological mechanisms is that political antagonists meet in the same point regarding the attitude to Alexievich.

However, one can see a deeper sense to this situation. Society and literature is not a “friend-or-foe” air defense system. A real author, a great author is always bigger and more complex than his or her political position, and cannot be reduced to it. And people, evaluating their authors and their winners, are ruled not only by political anger of the day.

Or maybe this happens only in case of Alexievich? Maybe she unites people above political barriers and barricades? Her Nobel could have just made it evident. Maybe this unity will last in time. Looks like in our land it’s true that “a poet is more than a poet”.

Yu. Drakokhrust, http://news.tut.by/politics/478891.html