Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian author who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, says she wants to use the spotlight cast on her by the award to try to spark a "revolution in the minds of people."
“I believe resistance is needed,” Alexievich told RFE/RL’s Russian Service in an interview, when asked whether change was possible in Russia under President Vladimir Putin or Belarus under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- two authoritarian leaders who have controlled their countries for years.
Nearly a quarter-century after the 1991 collapse of the communist Soviet Union, Alexievich suggested that a shift in people's mindsets would remove the biggest roadblock to change in her native region and worldwide.
"But I don’t mean running to the barricades and shooting. I’m no supporter of revolutions because never in history have they led to anything other than bloodshed," she said in the interview. "I think we do need a revolution, but in the minds of people."
“War should have long ago been equated with cannibalism," Alexievich said in the wide-ranging interview. "In the 21st century, mankind still resolves its conflicts the same way it did when people wore animal skins. The only difference is that in the past they killed with clubs, and today with weapons of mass destruction."
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
A tenacious critic of totalitarianism, Alexievich has written about events that had an impact on Belarus in the 20th century, including the Nazi occupation, the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Swedish Academy awarded the author and journalist the Nobel Prize, calling her works “a monument to suffering and courage in our time."
None of her work, written in Russian, has been published in Belarus since Lukashenka came to power in 1994.
Lukashenka first congratulated Alexievich, a loud and persistent critic of the Belarus leader, after the prize was announced on October 8. However, Lukashenka later questioned her patriotism after Alexievich lobbed criticism at his regime.
"Some of our 'artists,' creative individuals, even Nobel Prize winners...went abroad and tried to pour a bucket of dirt over their country,” Lukashenka said in late October.
The 67-year-old Alexievich, who was born in Soviet Ukraine to a Belarusian father and a Ukrainian mother, said that such sniping would do nobody any good back home in Belarus.
“As far as Lukashenka goes, I am truly sorry that at a very difficult time for Belarus we are not talking about what is important," she said. "Two people who hold some form of symbolic capital should give their people hope, rather than quarrelling in public.”
Asked whether she thought writers like herself could have any influence on Lukashenka -- dubbed "Europe’s last dictator" by some critics -- Alexievich was unsure, but not upbeat.
“I’m not even sure literature can influence politicians today. Unfortunately, that time has passed. At the same time, however, all politicians depend on us. If they are genuine politicians, then they will hear where they are and with whom,” she said.
Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko attends a court hearing in the Russian city of Donetsk on November 2.
Shifting gears, Alexievich voiced strong admiration for Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian military pilot on trial in Russia on charges of involvement in what Russian authorities describe as the "murder" of two Russian journalists covering the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Savchenko served in a volunteer battalion fighting against Russia-backed separatists. She is accused by Russian authorities of providing the coordinates for a mortar attack that killed the two journalists in 2014.
Savchenko and her backers say that the charges are false and that she was abducted and illegally transferred to Russia for prosecution. Rights groups and Western government have called for her release.
“Of course, Nadia knows a lot more about war than I, although I’ve listened to hundreds of stories about war, and was present myself during the [Soviet] war in Afghanistan. That war, which I witnessed, was in no way as dramatic, or intense, as what Nadia has experienced,” said Alexievich, whose first novel, War's Unwomanly Face, is based on previously untold stories of women who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II.
Alexievich said the court in the southern Russian city of Rostov is not only prosecuting Savchenko for defending her country but for being a strong woman.
“Nadia is a very strong, a very compelling person, a very unusual woman -- unusual for our time. And for that, they are persecuting her. Men who can’t stand to see a woman equal to them or ever higher. There is no evidence whatsoever of her guilt. She is only guilty of defending her homeland,” Alexievich says.
Alexievich vowed to press Savchenko’s case "from every street corner" and sign every petition demanding her release, although she does so with “despair and a feeling of helplessness.”
"You can be a three-time Nobel winner and still be unable to change the most primitive human behavior, the most primitive political beliefs," Alexievich says.
However, Alexievich says standing up for people like Savchenko is crucial to ultimately bring about that sea change in people’s minds.
“By doing that, we save ourselves, and preserve the dignity of those we stand by. They feel they are not alone," she said. "We can only grow, expand as a group, and show them that we are not few in number.”
Written by RFE/RL’s Tony Wesolowsky based on an interview by Andrei Shary of RFE/RL’s Russian Service