Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2015, spoke to RFE/RL ahead of next week's announcement of the 2016 prize. Here are excerpts from the Belarusian author's discussions with RFE/RL's Current Time TV and Belarus Service on October 5.
RFE/RL: What do Russians see in President Vladimir Putin?
Svetlana Alexievich: They associate him with empire, with a strong state. It's not easy for Russians to put up with the thought that they merely live in a normal country. When I was writing a book, I asked people the question, "Would you rather live in a strong or normal country?" And 80 or even 90 percent chose a strong country.... Russian culture is based on grand ideas. If a person becomes a part of some grand idea, it compensates for poverty and the feeling of inferiority.
RFE/RL: Do you think the people who have fought in Ukraine and Syria will receive the same treatment when they come back home?
Alexievich: The war in Syria seems to be far away, though it's still frightening. But the war with Ukraine is a shock comparable to perestroika. It's a war between brothers, and people are very confused.
RFE/RL: Have you decided on who is right and who is wrong in this case?
Alexievich: Of course. I am on Ukraine's side; it is occupation pure and simple.
RFE/RL: Russia is waging a war both in Ukraine and Syria. Do you think they are somehow similar?
Alexievich: Absolutely not.
RFE/RL: Why not?
Alexievich: As far as Ukraine is concerned, it was understandable what Putin wanted -- it was clear. To stand up for Russia, to expand Russia if possible. That is, to keep Ukraine with it because what is Russia without Ukraine? Without Ukraine, Russia doesn't exist in that imperial sense that it hasn't cast off.
But Syria is somewhere far off and people absolutely don't understand it. It is incomprehensible even to me, a person who has read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and also Remarque and who follows politics and who has been studying Soviet people and their history for 30 years. Even for me, it is incomprehensible what we are doing there.
RFE/RL: For you personally, where does Russia begin and end? What are its borders?
Alexievich: Pretty much what they are now. But Belarus and Ukraine are not parts of Russia, please understand and accept that.
RFE/RL: One of your books is called Secondhand Time. Let me ask about the role of a person and time: Can a political leader change his times for everyone, or is it the times that elect him?
Alexievich: In the case of Belarus, [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has managed to stop time for several generations. He has hampered our development, no doubt about it.... Russia had a chance to remain a democratic country, if it had a different leader. But now it has a leader who thinks not like a politician, but like a KGB officer. It is a different kind of thinking.
RFE/RL: Is there hope in your life? What is your hope?
Alexievich: I have hope, and I always say that hatred will not save us. Only love. Only by talking with one another.