Life, Novels

SVETLANA LUGANSKA, RUSSIAN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR, GUARDIAN OF PROFOUND FIRES
Being a Bridge
She didn’t give herself the task to be a bridge between Serbian and Russian culture, faith. She has just done what she couldn’t not do. Sometimes we are as we are only because we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. For her, as for Rosanov, the feeling of homeland must be a big, warm silence. She reminds us of the words of Alexander III: ”Russia has no friends in the world, except Serbia.” She reminds of Florovsky: ”Russians are saved with prayer and Serbs with their readiness to give their life for faith.” The mechanism of opposing evil is methodically paralyzed in Europe and that is growing into suicide. However, we have many touching and wonderful examples around us, from which and for which one can live. The fate of the world is decided in the heart of each of us

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Guest’s Archive


Her silence is thundering. Pervaded with the cognition that ”a doe is a sense of heavenly sorrow”. It is hard to find a foreigner in this world, who loves Serbs so deeply and unconditionally, with a love that shines and doesn’t hurt.
Born in Podolsk, Podmoskovye. Graduated English Language and Literature at the Moscow Faculty of Philology, and then St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Institute (now university). The first Serbian author she translated was Metropolitan Amfilohije and she has been walking that road, the road of searching for God, till the very day. For almost a quarter of a century. Her book People of the Serbian Church became a bestseller in Russia in 2017, and this year we have its Serbian edition as well (Spiritual Flame of the Serbian Church). She was awarded with the Order of St. Sava in 2008.
Sometimes, she says, she thinks that she doesn’t understand anything and should start from the very beginning.
Our Svetlana Luganska in National Review.

Roots, homelands. The spiritual and geographic homeland are unbreakable bonded. The homeland is both space and time. We not only carry our homeland within our entire life, but also shape it with ourselves in a certain sense. Writer Kekaumenos did not have to renounce his Bulgarian and Armenian ancestors in order to feel like a Byzantine. Bagration did not have to renounce his Georgian origin in order to, although seriously ill, jump from his bed after the news about leaving Moscow. We don’t have to renounce ourselves as Russians in order to sincerely love Belgrade. Our roots are our wealth. It is up to us to preserve what has been given us at birth. We are responsible for what we get. Charles the Great used to say that, with learning a new language, you get another soul. When you love, get to know and accept another country, you get another anchor.
Sometimes we are as we are because we are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.
People often say that the time they were born in doesn’t correspond to their spirit, that they would like to live in another time. I find the spirit of the middle and late XIX century close to me, the end of the golden and beginning of the silver age of Russian culture.
Both bright and tragic memories are related to the homeland; that is where our soul was formed. My homeland is in a small town in Podmoskovye, which has already become part of the excessively expanded Moscow. That is where I spent the first eight years of my life, and I cannot say I have impressive memories from it. It was a steady, monotonous life of a provincial Soviet town, but since then I like small towns.
If we have imbued everything our homeland had given us, we carry it our entire life, we are permeated with it. We cannot return, because we’re not the same anymore. However, we can’t live without it either; it is a part of us. If we try to omit it, a strange pain will appear. It is impossible to build your life on renouncing what you have been given.

Home. My home spread throughout Russia, where I traveled a lot since my early age. The impressions from those years largely decided my further fate, my choice. For example, traveling to Pushkinskiye Gory became a personal encounter with the poet. My experience of it was very strong. Old palaces, holy places, Russian nature – all that made my home. Furthermore: the home is where people who share my values live. Where they are waiting for me.
It is hard for me to speak about my early life, because living in my parents’ home was pretty unstable. Reading became my world. We had a big library and I learned to read very early. I lived from reading and music. Traveling, books, music, learning foreign languages, favorite animals – that was my world then.

Codes. It was the Soviet era, which determined our ”sentimental education”. There was much imposed ideology. They didn’t bring us up in the spirit of respecting personality, which is one of our severe diseases. However, we had, for example, excellent films. Regardless of the ideological coloration, there was a lot of Christian in the films. Banned books, such as Doctor Zhivago, The Master and Margarita, Bunin’s, Shmelyov’s books reached us in unthinkable ways. Okudzhava, Galich and Vysotsky became popular later. They ruled the minds of many generations in the USSR, but I didn’t find them close to me.
My world consisted of and crystalized from many different ingredients. I am thankful to my mother who initiated by love for music and film. We were constant visitors of conservatories, cinemas, operas and theaters. Pushkin, Gumilyov, Akhmatova, Ilyin, Shmelyov, Bunin. His Cursed Days (chronicle of the October overthrow tragedy), Shmelyov’s Sun of the Dead. ”Is there anything more horrifying in Russian literature?” asked Solzhenitsyn. The tragedy of life was always more closer to me. The film Karamazov Brothers, the character of Alyosha and Elder Zosima. My secret wish was to meet such an elder.

Polenovo. One of my most favorite places in the world, the palace of my favorite Russian painter, where many months of my life have passed. A place uncommon for its beauty and abundance of cultural events, where many movies were filmed. As a five or six year-old, I played in the ruins of the church, built according to the design of painter Vasily Polenov. Everything I experienced there remained in my heart as an indelible memory. I have visited it again recently. It’s nice to see the renewed church, the white beauty over the Oka, one of the most beautiful Russian rivers, also called the cincture of the Mother of God.

Encounters. I remember our neighbor, an ordinary Russian woman, who gave me, then a pioneer, the first icon of the Savior in my life. All really important encounters are related with those who carried the light of love in them. Later it was my spiritual guardian, late Episcope Zosima. I met him in the years of my intensive spiritual quest. I was already baptized, looking for a spiritual guardian, but I came to him for some secular matter. When I saw him, I realized: ”Yes! I found him and I’m not going anywhere from him.” He avoided giving advice, he didn’t talk much and taught me by his personal example.
I gained a lot with my encounter with the work of Igor Talkov, today, unfortunately, forgotten poet. The climax of his creative work was in the early nineties. His concerts reminded of lessons from Russian history. His parents suffered oppression, he knew the real history of the country, and his poem ”Russia” had a bomb-like effect. Young people followed him in masses. That is why he was killed, practically on the concert stage. That bullet hit many of us in the heart. In those years, I experienced a personal tragedy and Igor’s death turned my life into a different direction. I suppressed my own misfortune and became member of a society that investigated his death. New people, who dealt with renewing the historical truth about Russia, entered my life, which initiated me to enroll in the St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University. Our pedagogy professor brought a book written by Metropolitan Amfilohije from his journey to Serbia and asked me to translate some parts, in order to use them while working with his students. The text touched me. I showed the translation to my spiritual guardian and he told me: ”Translate everything. We’ll publish it.” That is how my road towards the Serbian Metropolitanate of Montenegro and the Coastal Areas began, my communication with the Metropolitan and cooperation with ”Svetigora” radio.

Family. Russia for me is homeland, love, pain, hope. I agree with Rosanov, who said that the feeling of homeland has to be a big, warm silence. Russia is the home and we are responsible for its order. The most important things to me from its heritage are holiness and martyrdom, feats and sacrifice. When I need to give a short explanation of my country to a foreigner, I take his or her hand and take them with me. Come and see.

Sixth column. According to the words of Alexander III the Peacemaker, Russia has no friends except Serbia. What is determining the Russian idea and Russian mission today? Orthodox Christianity.
Anti-Russian tendencies are strong in Russian contemporary culture. Activists who attempt to pull culture down into banality and scandal are the loudest and most conspicuous (for example, the movie Matilda). There are, of course, artists who speak about the wounds of contemporary Russia with pain, there are those who profoundly understand what is actually happening, there are genuine authors. There is a lively and authentically Russian stream in Russian culture and art. There are wonderful poets, such as priest Dmitry Tribushni, one of the best poets today, poetess Olesya Nikolayeva, film director Vera Vodinsky.
The rush from the late nineties has slightly weakened in ecclesiastical life. However, those who stayed, and there are many of them, know why they came and why they stayed. The Holy Bible tells us about the small flock. The elite is undoubtedly aware of the special place and special responsibility of Russia and Russian culture in this époque, about the dangerous derangement of the postmodern world. I am speaking, of course, about the real elite, the minority. The so-called elite, seemingly dominant at the moment, is still sinking into a provincial and epigonic disease called ”longing for the West”.
Most of the so-called elite never stopped dreaming of being approved by the West and is anti-Russian oriented. Many of them leave Russia and settle in, among other places, Serbia and Montenegro, creating a distorted picture about the Russian people and country.

My Europe. I have always been interested in European culture. I liked and spoke English well, although I was forced to study it. There was great interest in Slavistics, and the Party recommended admitting graduates from working-class families to that department. I had no chance to enroll, but I didn’t want to lose a year, so I enrolled in the English department. Serbian and Polish were facultative languages, although my entire life has already started opening towards Serbia then.
My Europe are Rilke, Eco, Moravia, Hesse, Orwell, Remark, Joyce, Carol, Hardy… I have always been closer to the Mediterranean part of Europe – Spanish, French, Italian authors, melodies, painting. The Mediterranean type and vertical, beauty and type of man embodied in the personality of Italian doctor Giuseppe Moscati.
There are no contradictions between Europe close to my heart and Russia. I wouldn’t like to speak now about the dark side of Europe, about ”European midnight” according to the definition given by Bishop Nikolaj, or about ”Europe that died in Priština”, about Europe after Kosovo. It is a specific, large and painful subject. Europe is very diverse. It includes both Bernard Kouchner and General Morillon and Jacques Hogard.

The expanse between Russia and Serbia. My connection to Serbia is completely unconditional and unalterable. It appeared in early childhood, from several elements. While passing the entire warfare road to Berlin, my father liberated Belgrade as well. If any bright memories could remain from that war, he said, they are from Serbia. He was later director of a big science and research institute and closely connected with Yugoslavia. He often traveled there and brought me books, which had an amazing effect on me. I ”read” them endlessly without understanding anything. He brought me records and tapes of Yugoslav musicians. My peers mocked me. They listened to Soviet pop bands or ”The Beatles” and other rock groups, which were hard to find on the black market. They couldn’t understand who ”Bijelo Dugme”, ”Indeksi”, Đorđe Marjanović were or the pleasure of listening to them.
There was another important event for me. My parents were atheists, but had big respect for the ”historical and cultural heritage”. During one of our family journeys and visits to Orthodox Christian shrines, we visited the Pskovsk-Pecher Monastery at the time of the midnight liturgy. I was eight or nine years old and that was my first encounter with an Orthodox service. I felt as if I had arrived to my cousins, as if I had found my spiritual homeland: a beyond-time expanse between Russia and Serbia, both in Russia and in Serbia.
Serbia is my life.
I came to Serbia in 1987 for the first time, which, at the time, from the Soviet Union, wasn’t easy at all. (...) I found love, warmth in Serbia. It was a long expected encounter with what I knew and loved, an encounter with my favorite country, nation, music, with the old intimate different. I saw everything that had already become mine a long time ago.

Authors, works. Serbian authors whom I especially like and most profoundly experience are Ivo Andrić, Uroš Predić, venerable Justin Popović and all those I have already mentioned. I began translating the works of Bishop Nikolaj, Metropolitan Amfilohije, Bishop Atanasije Jevtić and other extraordinary theologians with joy. It was a special chapter in my life, when I found answers to important questions.
In Serbian authors I find valuable insight, honesty, tragedy and joy, merge of the unmergeable, complete ”breaking of the heart”.

Sometimes I think I have to start from the beginning. I dare say I understand the Serbian soul. Every area, every city have their own unique features. Sometimes, however, I feel I don’t understand anything and that I have to start from the beginning.
In my eyes, Serbs are an entirely evangelical nation. By their sacrifice, compassion, benevolence, openness, generosity.
Serbian shortcomings? I don’t like to criticize Serbs. I do it rarely, and only with people who love them, understand them and don’t misuse the criticism. I do it especially because the negative propaganda stereotypes about Serbs, from the nineties, still exist in western media. I sometimes reproach Serbs for excessively believing, for not wanting to see the obvious evil threatening them, for forgetting evil that has been brought upon them. It is an evangelical feature, but becomes the cause of problems when it crosses the border of reason.

Listening to stones. As with Russia, the friends I want to introduce to Serbia, I take by the hand and lead them. I always emphasize that Serbia is, before all, made of its people and that coming here is worth because of them. There are many beauties in the world, but such a nation doesn’t exist anywhere else. Merry, warm, heroic, a child nation, in the evangelical sense (”if you don’t become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”). I feel great joy when the friends I introduce to the country accept its nation with their hearts. I must mention young reporter Lidia Koshkina. Upon her return from Belgrade, she wrote a brilliant text, stating: ”While I was walking through Belgrade, stones were roaring around me. And I just approached them with a microphone.” Someone sees only gray streets and wonders what is there to love.

Serbian character. The thing I’d change in Serbs is, probably, their attitude towards domestic animals. Joking aside, I’d change the excessive self-criticism. ”Things here are worse than anywhere else.” ”Serbs are good for nothing.” I think that is the result of the propaganda during the last wars and the aggression of the world against Serbs, the result of the planned implanting of the feeling of guilt. I feel bad when I hear Serbs constantly criticizing themselves and always considering themselves the source of all misfortunes. Serbs also have to be more critical towards their Russian brothers.

Bridge and banks. Yes, so it turned out, life made me a bridge between Serbian and Russian culture and faith. I didn’t give myself such an assignment. I simply did what I couldn’t not do. I was initiated by love and wish for bigger knowledge and understanding, sharing knowledge with my close ones.
A bridge receives much more than I could imagine. I often listen to words of gratitude for the ”motherly love” for the Serbian nation. Being awarded the Order of St. Sava was entirely unexpected and shocking.
Do the banks understand the bridge? It depends. It seems that the Serbian bank has more understanding and more compassion.
I have never swayed or repented for starting off this road and dedicating my life to this, which also doesn’t mean that there weren’t any critical moments and wishes to raise an army barracks on the bridge.

Belgrade, my close friend. I return to Belgrade because I love it very much, as a close friend, as a living being. When I came for the first time in 1987, it was the beginning of the overturn in Yugoslavia, in my country, in my life. I walked through the city and remembered everything I had read and known about it, what made me happy and stronger. My points in Belgrade are the Topčider Church, Ružica Church, Russian Church, the quay, bridges, Dorćol, Kalemegdan, Kosančićev Venac. My Belgrade is the Belgrade of Staro Sajmište, linden trees in bloom, extraordinarily beautiful sunsets, old kafanas.

Not recognizing evil. I’m afraid that the mindless and haughty anthropocentrism brought modern man to the end. Small-mindedness has already started and is greatly determining the spirit of our time. Man is renouncing genuine values for personal comfort, which was practically turned into religion. Vulgarity and cynicism are becoming a rule, while globalism is becoming a synonym for vulgarity.
I think I don’t have the right to bring big conclusions. I’m cultivating my own small piece of land and my horizon is not so wide. I will quote one of my favorite Russian philosophers, Vasily Rosanov, who said: ”The mechanism of destruction of the European civilization will be revealed in paralyzing any resistance to evil.” There is no man or life without love and sacrifice, but I constantly meet people who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, for their love towards the Church, Homeland, nation, man. And one creator, one compassionate man, is capable of changing a lot.

***

People of the Church
Yes, my book ”People of the Serbian Church” achieved an unexpected success. I was even more surprised that Serbs asked me for the Serbian version of the book, published in Belgrade this year, entitled ”Spiritual Flame of the Serbian Church”.
I knew well most people from the book, whom I spoke with, so those were actually conversations with people dear to me. I had the assignment to lead conversations in a way to reveal the Russian reader the history of continuous martyrdom of the Serbian nation and Serbian church, not to make a guide for pilgrims, but to reflect the true history of the nation and country through dialogues, so that perhaps some unnecessarily strict judges would question their stands. Our man doesn’t know enough about Serbia and Serbs, not even those who moved and live here.

***

Searching for God
Does the road of searching for God differ in Serbs and in Russians? In Russia, everything is more reserved, strict, abrupt, while in Serbia it’s straightforward, lively, open. I think Florovsky said that Russians are saved with prayer and Serbs with their readiness to give their life for faith.

***

Places I Always Return To
Polenovo and Tarusa, as I said, are places dear to my heart, my favorite places in Russia. Then the Monastery of Cetinje, Belgrade, Budva – the Budva I remember from thirty years ago holds a special place in my life and it hurts me to see what they turned it into now. I like lakes, rivers, especially the sea. However, when seeing the beauty of the sea, I cannot help seeing it with the eyes of the Goli Otok prisoners, and the mountains with the eyes of those thrown into pits. For me, it is a beauty that heals and a beauty that hurts.
Similar to reading, traveling is a creative process. Journeys must change the traveler. I best feel an area, city, country when I travel alone or with someone close to me by spirit. Walk as much as possible, look, talk to people, ask.

***

An Album of Internal Pictures
I have an entire album of internal pictures: a picture of the full moon in the Balkan sky, pictures of heavenly dramas at sunset, faces of dear people, conversations with a cup of coffee, many favorite melodies, smell of the sea, linden trees in bloom, rain and snow, mulled wine on a cold day. I like to give as gift icons of St. Petar of Cetinje, Trojeručica, New Martyrs of Jasenovac, Simeon Mirotočivi, a magnet with the contours of favorite cities, Kotor and Belgrade cats, something unique and unusual.

***

My Music
Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Greek folk music, Serbian and Italian music, Spanish zarzuela, rock and popular music.

 


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