Three years ago, Cristina Cerrada published Hindenburg, the second novel in her Europa trilogy. In it, as in the previous one, she also did not reveal the name of the country in which she was based, but the political details and the slightly altered toponyms identified Ukraine in the background. The plot began with Russia invading an area equivalent to Donbas. When asked in 2019 if something like what she described in fiction could happen, the writer replied: "Could it? Don't you see that it hasn't stopped happening?" But what happened in February 2022 exceeded all her expectations.
"It horrified me. When I saw it materialize on the news on the first day, I couldn't believe it. I knew that tension was there because I had written a fiction about it. But when it really happens, it's terrifying. I heard phrases on television that I almost I had literally written in the novel", Cristina Cerrada admits to this newspaper. She now publishes Stalin's teacher (Seix Barral), the last volume of the trilogy. On this occasion, he does not address what happened in Ukraine but in Georgia, but the latest novel has many similarities with Hindenburg and Europe, released in 2017 and which foreshadowed the migratory crisis plaguing the old continent.
Again, the protagonist is a young woman facing an interwar period. She doesn't pronounce names or countries either, but she narrates the consequences left by the conflicts that took place after the independence of Georgia in 1991 and the dismemberment of the USSR. The title is an allegory of the post-Soviet scene: "The teacher was an untouchable woman while Stalin was alive and then she became an outcast. She was still untouchable, because that evil shadow lingered even when she was dead, but people spit on the ground when she was dead." passed". All the protagonists of the Europa trilogy are imbued with that darkness, according to the author.
"Eka, the protagonist of Stalin's Teacher, suffered in her own flesh the brutalities of the war and, although she later lives in an apparently peaceful and economically advanced Europe, she does not perceive it that way. All she wants is to leave", Closed explains.
Eka is a police officer in the capital of Georgia, where he fled in exile from his people, in the north of the country, because of hatred and xenophobia. He also deals in stolen clothes in order to raise money for a visa to Canada. Her husband was killed in the 2008 war against Russia, after which another "ethnic cleansing of Georgians" was carried out in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
"In anthropological terms, ethnicity does not exist. It does not have any genetic characteristics. It is a unique and exclusive cultural concept," says the writer. "Among those who call them ethnic Georgian or Abkhazian or Ossetianthere is no physical difference, only cultural," he points out. That did not prevent between 17,000 and 20,000 people from dying in 2008, and more than 250,000 from being displaced from their homes and becoming refugees.
"I am absolutely and clearly a pacifist. It is hard for me to believe that so many atrocities can be committed for an idea, and that is what makes me write about it," explains Cerrada. It is also what led her to take an interest in the Balkan wars and the separatist conflicts in Ukraine and Georgia.
"This phenomenon of separatism and ethnic and religious struggles are the tinderbox of Europe and what has caused all the wars of the last century and a half," he warns. According to her, the fault that we forget about these tensions lies with the agenda set by political and media interests. And that she could "predict" what is happening in the Ukraine is because of that. "Reality does not stop and flows again as if it were the Guadiana. The two regions of Donbas maintained their desire to be independent and Russia continued to support them. Here we stopped reading news about it, but how was it going to stop there?" .
The protagonist of Hindenburg, the book based on Ukraine, is Razha, a pro-Western and pro-European woman who lives in kyiv and has to return to her home region (Odessa, it is understood) because her mother falls ill. In this impasse, Russia enters under the pretext of liberating the independence zones and the war begins. "Rasha's ideology is of no relevance when the conflict breaks out. She has very poor and very limited resources geared towards only one thing: protecting her life, her daughter's life and her mother's life. is happening to the majority of Ukrainians now," he says.
The descriptions, the conversations between the characters or even the social and political reflections denote a great knowledge of the area by Cristina Cerrada. She has a doctorate in Literary Studies and a degree in Sociology and to document herself, she has resorted to both literature and reality, but she warns that she is not a political scientist. She also acknowledges not having visited many of the regions she reflects. "I am a fiction writer and I have no weapons to build a conflict of a geopolitical nature. I prefer to reflect them in the suffering and problems of individuals," she explains.
That is why he is careful not to give real names or attribute the role of antagonist to the politicians involved in these wars. "I build anonymous characters, people like you and me, who do reflect, unfortunately, the lights and shadows of power, media manipulation and evil leaders, like Putin," he reasons. His interest in this area stems from its proximity: "I write about Europe as if it were my country, although we always forget the Balkans, Ukraine or Georgia because they are located in the last stages".
For her, Europe "is a cultural entity that unites us and makes us compatriots. Those borders between nations could almost be assimilated to local borders." She believes that the conflicts of the last two centuries could be like "European civil wars" and that the conflict in Ukraine is showing this. "It is something that is already affecting us and to which almost all Europeans are responding at the same time," she defends.
Although Cristina Cerrada does not consider herself "a militant feminist", she knew that the protagonists of her Europa trilogy had to be women. "It is politically incorrect to say so, but I believe that there are cultural and psychological differences and that the attitude towards war is necessarily different in a woman than in a man," she says. The author believes that the protective instinct is greater in them: "Whoever has spent nine months getting a life forward in his own body is not going to endanger it just like that, I assure you. Even if it's only in one way selfish".
He also wanted to influence "vulnerability". "Historically, women have been the object of loot, one more resource that served as barter and exchange in wars. It seems unbelievable, but the sad reality is that it continues to happen," she says. Heda, the protagonist of Europe, is a refugee from the Balkan war who suffers from post-traumatic stress after being raped and abused. Razha, from Hindenburg, and Eka, from Stalin's Teacher, also run away, they also chase them and also try to rape them before killing them. "The ones who lose the most are always women," summarizes the author.
If Cerrada has learned anything by writing about these wars, it is that the human mind is not prepared to understand their idiosyncrasies. "It's like reading you a treatise on psychology, making a kind of scheme and thinking that you already understand war and its mechanisms. Not at all," she says. But he has come to a conclusion after so many years of study: "Although it seems a bit simplistic and Manichaean, I have realized that evil exists. It manifests itself by beating an old man, killing a child in cold blood, leaving starving someone or raping a woman. Evil can be carried out individually and it can also be carried out blindly, collectively. When Putin decides something that has a negative impact on millions of people, it is the representation of evil " .