Olga Merino: "There are no half measures with Russia: either you fall in love or you go for legs"

It is clear in 'Five Winters' that he is more interested in people than data. How did Stalin's purges, with between six and 20 million dead, affect social relations in the Russia that you knew?

On the one hand, you noticed that due to the fear of denunciations, people were very reluctant to speak up. And above all with a foreigner, it was penalized during the Soviet regime to have relations with a foreigner. They could impure you as an enemy of the people. But on the other hand, if there is something that unites Russians across generations and social classes, within the few social classes that existed, it is the role of the USSR in World War II. There papa Stalin saved us. It is controversial. There was distrust and a lot of suffering on his back, which meant that 'finesse' was lost in the deal.

Olga Merino, in front of the White House (Supreme Soviet), after the bombing decreed by President Borís Yeltsin, in October 1993. Archive

Between Solzhenitsyn and Shalamov, your vote is for the latter. Why?

They are night and day. 'Gulag Archipelago' seemed quite a pain to me. I didn't finish it. It's very good what Solzhenitsyn did, interviewing about 200 Gulag survivors and all that. It was called the Gulag archipelago because those who were in the labor camps, scattered throughout the Russian geography and isolated, considered each one of them an island and all the islands formed an archipelago. And when they referred to the people who were not in the camps, they meant the mainland. Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel, a political Nobel, but literary he is much finer Shalamov. Shalamov called Solzhenitsyn a usurper of other people's testimonies, while he is life and suffering naked, to the bone. It is a matter of skin.

My mother had to have her head sewn up by force after we saw a severed leg in a bucket in a hospital corridor


It is also his position: lives and lives, more than historical episodes.

Exactly. And the things that I have not put. In the train stations there were many kids like our menas now, or abandoned or escaped from orphanages. Delincuentillos of 11, 12, 13 years. They sniffed glue and especially robbed drunks, like a pack. The drunkard stamped one of them with a slap, but since there were seven, eight, nine, they stole everything. And no one cared about anyone there.

He goes to a dental clinic and pirates them as soon as he sees the panorama. Like the rich in Victorian England before Joseph Lister's antiseptic methods, who had their operations done at home, he concludes that the best way to avoid getting sick is to stay away from hospitals.

There was an American hospital but it was paid and I didn't even go near it because imagine what prices. The drama was that they believed that by lowering the Soviet flag and applying Western recipes to transform the economies of poor countries, that would work. But, of course, that was something else. There was no money. Doctors did not charge, there were no means. When I saw that, it cured me. 'Bloody hell this has to go by itself', I thought. It would be a phlegm. My mother, who had not even been to Andorra, came to see me once. In St. Petersburg, in a 'perejod' [pasos subterráneos para cruzar las grandes avenidas], she was run over by a cabinet on roller skates. She had to have her head sewn up in a hospital. By force, because she wanted to leave after we saw a severed leg in a bucket in a hallway.

Don Quixote could very well have been Russian. Idealistic, romantic...


Russophile confessed. That's a bit like falling in love with a cannibal ogre, isn't it?

There are no half measures with Russia. Either you fall in love or you go for legs. It seems that this is about legs. There were correspondents who did not adapt and had to leave. But there are many things that make you fall in love. The cultural construction that we have made of what is Spain and what is Russia, are very similar in many things. Don Quixote could very well have been Russian. Idealistic, romantic… Basically they are two countries with a very tragic history. It was a discovery for me. Until then I was more drawn to the Anglophile and the Latin American.

Russian literature helped, but it seems that the people even more.

Those people were heroes. History is sometimes very cruel. It simply records the great facts. Okay, the USSR is over and so much time later Russia is not a democracy but well. There were so many anonymous people who fell by the wayside... Especially people over 50: suddenly your country doesn't exist and you don't exist either.

Olga Merino, with three Soviet generals, one from each branch of the Army, veterans of the Second World War, in front of the monument to Lieutenant General Dimitri Karbishev, in 1995. Xavier Gonzalez

Suddenly they found that their life had been a lie and a failure.

And without resources, like young people, to make a living. The drop in life expectancy was tremendous. If in 88 the life expectancy of men was 65 years, during the first 90 it fell to 56 or 57. And then you get by. That's why they admire me too; apart from communism, all that blah blah blah, they developed a communitarian instinct to survive.

Is it literal or figurative that prices went up while queuing?

One day it happened to me. When I arrived, inflation was at 2,500%. The rubles melted in your hands. It was thought that shock therapy was going to work and that was a black tea party. That it has not been counted well or has not been interested in counting well. Because the whole privatization of Soviet industry was a disgrace.

The Soviets stopped the Nazis with meat barricades


How did he stand up to a tanker who had taken Berlin or to soldiers who had fought in Stalingrad?

I'm still guilty of Russophilia, but they sold us the story that we won World War II thanks to Uncle Sam going to war. But, hell, the Soviets stopped the Nazis with meat barricades. 20 million dead. 900 days in the siege of Leningrad people resisted, making soup out of book spines, with cases of cannibalism. And in Stalingrad, house by house. And then, towards Berlin... Beware, when the Russians arrived in Berlin is another. But that excites me and I take my hat off.

Why did she get the feeling that the cleaning woman, an engineer, despised her?

I had that thing.

Brutal extrapolation: I have the feeling that the Russians despise Westerners. For weak.

I do not dare to make a general formulation, but it is true that they consider themselves strong, they love the cold, their popular culture is full of figures that extol the cold. His Santa Claus is Papa Ice Cream, 'Ded Moroz'. The difference made me feel very bad, I was privileged in front of them. Although the girl was not killed either.

Putin is precisely the product of the humiliation that the USSR suffered when it collapsed


A humiliated but at the same time proud society was found, at least in a latent way. Can you explain this duality?

The one who has known how to hit that fiber is Putin. Putin is precisely the product of the humiliation that the USSR went through when it collapsed. We seemed to gloat, 'Look, these are now eating out of our little hand.' I don't love Putin, but NATO, created against the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, has been expanding, and Putin is the one who said 'eh' and has given them back that pride that they undoubtedly have. And that is why he continues to have significant popularity quotas. It is that they have put the missiles in the ass. I cannot defend Putin because he is a dictator, but NATO believed that he had it all done and no. Putin has managed to recover the self-esteem of the Russians, sounding like a self-help book.

Does the Russian soul exist?

Sure it is a cultural construction, but it already comes from the 19th century. The broken heart between Europe and Asia. One thing or another. the homesickness That longing for the lost homeland. Idealistic and romantic. Basically, the revolution is a romantic ideal driven to madness: we are going to build the homeland of the proletariat. It went like hell, but the idea was good. And a very strong community spirit, from before communism.

How did you live with so much cold?

I had calculated that the most that I, my body, could endure at 20 below zero was at most half an hour, always on the move, and then I had to go somewhere and have a hot drink.

You are born with the gift of writing, but also with the whip. to whip you


You certainly belong to the category of suffering writers.

For better or worse.

Does it make sense to have a hard time writing?

I was terrified of writing. I had it so idealized that it paralyzed me. It's horrible, it's like what Truman Capote says in the prologue to 'Music for Chameleons'. You are born with the gift but also with the whip. To whip you The truth is also that he worked like a pig. I mean, I didn't have much time. In journalism you never disconnect. You went to the movies and when you came home and saw the answering machine with the little red light... Start again. 'Hey, we've seen on Reuters that...'

If there is a mythologized journalistic figure, it is that of the correspondent. You, on the other hand, present yourself as a panoli that arrives there.

It was a panoli. Normally who goes in the Anglo-Saxon press to a correspondent like the one in Moscow, at that time also, is someone seasoned. And I was very lucky in that regard. She was a carambola. She was like that: young and inexperienced.

I recognize myself in vocation and honesty


What do you think of the Olga Merino rediscovered in Russian notebooks?

I look naive, very childish, and what did I care about the battles of the heart! Then you go silent. But there are two things in which I recognize myself: vocation and honesty. I think I've always approached people's stories honestly.

Paralysis and journalistic work almost make her a Bartleby of literature.

Deep down I am and sometimes I think about it. I have planted myself in the 56 years and my complete works are five. For such an early vocation... Damn, it's little production. If it were a company it would be totally bankrupt.

You can almost hear her purr with delight as she writes about her reading then, Russian and non-Russian.

Intertextuality, they call it, right? It's nice when books talk to each other.

How do you say congratulations in Russian?


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