Statement published by Kirill Serebrennikov, director of the production Der Freischütz, on his Instagram account on May 25th 2022. Translated from Russian:
Red Nail Polish
I watch images of the war every day. I keep watching them and see destroyed cities, burned cars, killed people. Red polish on a dead girl's hand... Every day, wherever I am, I feel as if planes were flying over me, as if I had to run for my life to a bomb shelter. My friends, male and female, no matter if they left or stayed, have been crying for weeks... For some reason, I haven't. Something is accumulating in me, and it has no way out.
Coetzee wrote a good novel, "Waiting for the Barbarians." The barbarians that the hero had been waiting for in a fortress came from inside. The new barbarism is finally here. For barbarians, another human being is nothing else but prey. It's flesh and resources. It's hair. Skin. Skull. Slave labour. Some particularly sophisticated barbarians made lampshades out of leather, cups out of skulls, stuffed pillows with human hair... Barbarians go to post offices to send their loot home.
The parcels contain hair, skulls, skin, nails with red varnish. The barbarians push their way through life, they are so sure of themselves. War is a quick dehumaniser, and no culture will save you from the most terrible crime if the state entitles you to commit it.
The Germans realised something about the war only when they were led to the trenches with the corpses of prisoners of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. And when they forced them to bury these corpses with their own hands, without gloves. And after the Nuremberg Tribunal. But before 1945, they talked about “de-judification”.
I’m having a strange dream. I am a guy in camouflage who was forced to read a book out loud for a dead Ukrainian girl who was lying in a coffin. It feels almost like "The Viy" by Gogol, born long ago in Ukraine and writing in Russian, but it's happening now, in this war. I can't read, the lines are blurry, but I can't look at the girl either. I mumble something under my breath. The girl is wearing red varnish on her nails…
Culture in Russia is always contrary, spiteful, against the state. Sometimes with the government's money, but never in its name or for its sake. All the Russian government and politics do is kill and separate. They destroy families. They break people's lives. Culture saves and collects what is still human in people. Russia has been ruled by many governments, and all of them were of a cannibalistic nature. Those rare years when the government in Russia did not devour people are referred to as thaws. The authorities were just having a break before starting to devour people again.
Culture is always about what is not important to the government. It is about mercy to the fallen. It is about compassion. It is about the abysses and heights of the human spirit. It is about despair. It is about loneliness. It is about people who seem to be ridiculous, unimportant, miserable, useless, and untimely. It is about minorities. Therefore, there were not many government officials who really respected Russian culture, and almost none who loved it. Kids were forced to read it in school. They read books they were not interested in. They watched movies they didn't understand much about. They listened to music they thought was kind of weird and shrugged to themselves. But they still read, watched, and listened to it. Because it was the only content they had access to. There was nothing talented and sincere about the "God-induced" government, about "we can do it again”, about the pride and greatness of the empire... Or rather, sometimes the government ordered this kind of stuff to be created, forcing people to write books, shoot movies, sing songs and recite poems about it. And others, to read, watch, and listen to all of it. In most cases, it was pure shit.
...The dead girl rises from her coffin. She comes up to me while I am mumbling under my breath. I'm not looking at her. I'm not looking at her. She comes closer, trying to look into my eyes. I don't look up from the Russian letters. She suddenly says to me, "Shh." I can't stop reading, I keep mumbling in Russian. She says out loud in Ukrainian, "Keep quiet. Don't speak! I want silence." I'm so scared I stop. But I can't look up. She says in Ukrainian, "Look at me."…
The soldiers of my country invaded a foreign country and began crushing it, massacring people, tearing down houses. Coffins and stolen household appliances get sent to Russia from Ukraine, cripples come back, bringing nothing but... hatred with them. These bombs of hatred boomerangs that might be worth several Hiroshimas are also tearing apart the life of my country.
The soldiers of my country have mined the future of each person and every family. This hatred will sweep away the hopes for prosperity and freedom. A life of fear and hatred is what awaits us, the ones who watch this war, those who have taken part in it, and those who have suffered its consequences. Even if we protest against it.
The state starts wars in order to increase the host of its own "martyrs", for all they care about are role models and fascinating apocrypha. No one cares about dead soldiers lying in the fields, shot civilians abandoned along the roads: they are no longer an asset, they spoil the triumphant statistics, they are gone. Art thinks about these abandoned dead people, about their last words, about their dreams, about their unborn children. The unburied dead are the heroes of real literature, of honest cinema, of sincere theater.
...I'm silent. The dead Ukrainian woman is silent. A beat. She looks at me. I look at her hands with bright red nails. I want to draw a chalk circle. She whispers in Ukrainian, "It won't help you, boy. It won't." I know it won't. But I want to break the excruciating despair. I could use some creak of chalk. Or the sound of heartbeat. But, as luck would have it, everything fell silent…
Those who start the war always lose. Those who rape, kill, and torture civilians are war criminals. And so are those who justify them. It is impossible to sympathise with sadists and murderers. I sympathise with those who unwittingly found themselves involved in the terrible crime of war. Those who don't have the blood of innocent people on their hands yet. I am terrified to imagine what must be going through the mind of a soldier who finds himself in a foreign country against his will and kills upon his boss's orders just so they leave him alone. I am terrified to imagine the soldiers' parents who first support the "special operation", and then receive false reports about their child getting killed "due to an accident." I'm scared and hurt for them. I am afraid for those who have been fooled by propaganda. Sooner or later, they will realise what a mess they have gotten all of us into.
...A woman from Bucha was taking online manicure classes before the war. That's why her nails were painted red. And then people from my country came, people who speak the same language that I do, and those people killed her. Maybe this color had seemed too provocative to them...
I'm holding a book written in Russian. The letters are dead. My lips are dry. The dead Ukrainian girl stands in front of me and asks, "Look at me, lad. Just take a look." I think, "I can't, I just can't." She insists in Ukrainian, "You have to, buddy." I'm silent, I don't know what to do. "Can you see?" she whispers... I say, "I can't..." She laughs, "Just take a look. Don't be afraid." I say softly, "Then lift my eyelids." Someone lifts my eyelids to make me look. I'm scared, but I look. I keep looking. There is a war out there.