Sergey Davydov is a playwright. He is 30, born in Togliatti. His literary debut happened at 19, and was successful. Last years he lived in Moscow, worked with Moscow theaters, did projects in Russian regions. In March 2022, after the cancellation of the children's science-pop performance due to anti-war statements, Sergey realized that he would no longer have work in Russia. And his new queer novel Springfield is also unlikely to be published here anytime soon. In the Eyewitness Project, we talked to Sergei about why the growth of homophobia in Russia goes hand in hand with increased militarization, about violence and power, and about the "decolonization" of consciousness.

Tell us about yourself.

- My name is Sergey Davydov, I am a playwright, I am 30 years old. I was born in the industrial city of Togliatti. My mother was involved in political activities, she came to Togliatti from Tajikistan at the very beginning of the nineties. My whole family has lived in Tajikistan for a hundred years. They were all ethnic Russians, just some were descendants of colonialists from the late 19th century, some were deported or dispossessed, but somehow none of them knew Russia before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I had been writing for theater and film since I was 19. At 19, I had an accidental debut as a playwriter. It turned out to be immediately successful, and then I worked with theaters. In the last few years I worked mainly with Moscow theaters, but I also worked a lot in Russia. I recently wrote a novel.

How did you become a playwright?

- It was 2012, I was 19 years old, and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was studying at the Aerospace University, which I absolutely did not need. I had to somehow prove to myself and to my family that I was not a fool, that my talent had not yet been discovered, so I started thinking. I'm creative, so what kind of creative things can I do? Taking pictures - you need a camera for that, and I have no money. Drawing, you have to learn. And letters are free. I googled what writing contests there are with open-calls, and the first thing that came up for me was the Nikolai Kolyada Eurasia Playwrights Prize, which has a deadline in a month. I thought, "What, I'm not going to write a play in a month?" even though I had never seen a play before, but I somehow childishly reasoned that I might like Kolyada, sent in a little play and made the finals right away. Maybe Kolyada pitied me then, but he gave me a very good advance. A playwright has two ways of working: one - he writes plays and sends them to competitions and festivals, and the other - he works on a project. I've done a lot of both. My first big project was Transsib by the Moscow Art Theatre School - we traveled the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok and back and made a documentary play out of it called Transsib. I've done a lot of documentary productions about Russia in different cities. I worked with inclusive projects, the last one was just before the war. It was a project of the Sovremennik Theater, where we worked with deaf artists. On the basis of Plato's works, we had to invent a kind of state in which there would appear a language of communication that no one knew before, but it would appear in the process of communication. This is a utopian project, so there was also a utopian theme. And when we were cheerfully and cheerfully coming up with a common language in our tiny little state, the Sovremenniks, all the while there were car crashes on Chistye Prudy. And it was so strange: we were inventing an ideal state, and then there were those autoloaded cars. It was probably my last project before the war.

What changed in your life after February 24, 2022?

- I assured everyone that there would be no war, and it seemed to me that it was all alarmist. Because I thought that I and all my friends and colleagues from cultural institutions were busy making sure that didn't happen. That we were busy bringing civilization closer, bringing progress closer, and we believed in it so much, or wanted to believe in it, that there seemed to be no force that could break it down so quickly. Come February 24th. I remember waking up early in the morning with a hangover, reading about it, and in all the chats everyone was crying. I had acquaintances from Ukraine, so I started apologizing to them. I immediately opposed the war, because I didn't understand how I could behave otherwise and, not understanding what to do, decided to leave Russia. With all the dough I had, I bought a triple-dollar ticket to Uzbekistan and told my mother about it. Right after that she had a heart attack, and instead of going to Uzbekistan, I went to my mother's house at the border. There we became friends like we'd probably never been friends in our lives. Because in the face of death a lot of things become unimportant. Then I came back to Moscow. And I remember very well that feeling when you walk around the city, in those same theaters, where there were all those progressive, beautiful people who gave you hope, and you realize that all that is dead, all that is gone, life is gone. At the beginning of March, we were supposed to have a premiere at the Stanislavsky Electric Theater of a children's science-pop play, Ronaldo Will Never Catch Up With My Grandmother, directed by Nikita Bitekhtin. Nikita also spoke out against the war and organized a campaign to boycott theaters that hang Z on themselves, which made me find out the day of the premiere that our play was canceled. And after that I had no more work in Russia, and I understood that it will not be. Neither in the theater, nor in cinema.

Why did you decide to leave Russia?

- I can't not do what I believe in, I will continue to do it anyway, but in Russia it is no longer possible. When mobilization was announced, I clearly understood: if it turned out that I would fall under mobilization and would not be able to defect, then let's just say I would not survive it. Since there was no air left, I decided to leave in order to continue my work.

Why do many people in Russia support the war?

- There is no simple formula here. For very many years the Russian has been accustomed to the idea that absolutely nothing depends on him in this life. He is used to being humiliated, and he thinks he will always be humiliated. Actually, why people went to mobilize: I think many of them don't consider themselves alive at all. Propaganda gives rise to this thing that the social psychologist Andrei Yudin calls induced narcissistic delusion. Why do I find this concept so appealing? Because it gives you indulgence, it tells you that we are so wonderful but so unappreciated, that everyone is against us, and that's the only reason we're not great, because we resist the whole world. And it gives you such peace of mind that in fact, yes, I've been told that I'm so wonderful and strong and beautiful, it's just that the world is so bad. It gives you the ability to continue to do nothing. But if there's one thing I've learned about many Russians in 2022, it's that they have kutya in their heads. It is impossible to say that this is a worldview system, because there is no system there, there is a set of slogans that are thrown into the discussion at the right moment.

Have you taken part in protests? Does the protest matter?

- I, like many people, got out. True, I had some trouble with the police, but this is a common problem for Russians. The simple act of speaking the truth in everyday life makes a huge difference. If in ordinary life you keep telling the truth, then you are already committing an important political act. Any truth, about anything, this must be understood. Not just about war. It can be the truth about any aspect of life, because now almost everything has become political. Even just to condemn domestic violence in words is already to be disagreeing with aggression, because the whole state administration is based on violence, and that's why we can't have a miserable law on domestic violence, for example. No one will pass it, because banning violence means taking away a little bit of power, and we need to make sure that violence permeates everywhere. And most importantly, that there should be no truth. No truth at all. So just telling the truth is enough. Any person who was able to save himself and not get his hands dirty in blood, not kill himself, is already a great man. We are in too extreme a situation to demand an even greater sacrifice from ourselves.

Tell us about your novel, which will soon be published in the United States?

- This is the novel Springfield, which we're publishing now outside of Russia, of course. It's a queer novel about the time before the war. A novel about two young guys from a provincial town, taking place in Samara and Togliatti, the same place where I lived. They have a relationship, and they really want to get out of Russian poverty with absolutely no resources other than their willpower. They are trying to enter a new, happier life and become, as they say, "free Moscow pi****s," so that the long-awaited future can finally come. It seems to them that it will work out. I felt this time, the 21st year, that something very good was about to happen. And I think a lot of people have had that feeling. And so, I was writing this novel, February 24th happens, laws are passed afterwards, and I understand that this novel will not be published in Russia, or most likely at all. But why I decided to finish it: one of my ethical and aesthetic objectives was to tell the truth, so in spite of this situation, the novel had to be finished. Even if it will never be published, it must remain as a document and a kind of memory of normality, of what we believed in, what we wanted. Before the LGBT propaganda law was passed, I posted it publicly on Facebook and said I would close access when the law was passed. It went viral very quickly, which I didn't expect, and it ended up being discussed and criticized, although I still think it's strange because it hasn't been published, but people talk about it for some reason. "Springfield" turned out to be not so much a novel about queer people as a novel about Russia and hope, and how that hope collapsed. It's a novel that probably a lot of people need.

Why is homophobia in Russia on the rise?

- We find ourselves in an unnatural, violent and completely incomprehensible situation. The two countries are terrified, and in order to reassure these people, there is a good strategy - to offer something very simple and familiar. And what in Russia, with its formed convict culture, could be cuter, clearer and simpler than hatred of "faggots"? Sexuality control is a very strong control, and naturally, the state wants to have control over sexuality. It's an attempt to find another internal enemy and scapegoat in case the external enemy doesn't work or look effective enough. Of all the repressive laws that have been passed in Russia in recent years, only the LGBT law punishes people not for something they did because they chose to do it, but because of the way these people are. Roughly speaking for just being that way, and they might as well have passed laws against people with mental illnesses or brown eyes or whatever. This law is about an attempt to find some kind of enemy within the country, to consolidate people through slumbering, completely senseless xenophobia and get even more power. When we talk about gays being bad, most people who are not LGBT automatically feel good and less vicious, more très-men, très-women, and this also works for narcissistic idea and for resentment.

Whose fault is it that the lives of millions of people have gone wrong?

- Of course, I would love to blame the Russians, but I won't do it, because it's not true. To say something along the lines of, "The Russians were all fools and wanted to be suppressed themselves," I will not. I think it's primarily the years of disability, the brainwashing, the pressure on the same points in the mind, which ultimately leads to a sense of helplessness. The war is primarily the fault of the Russian government, and maybe only secondarily, of the Russians, because they have chosen not to master the political culture and have no interest in elections or their electoral rights or any other rights.

What awaits Russia?

- Someday we'll all get together and come up with some new good Russia. But right now I don't know. The Russia that I knew, that I loved, that I worked for, no longer exists; there is something else. What awaits this other - I don't know. I don't understand this country, I don't understand how far this can go. I don't separate myself from Russia, even though I don't live in Russia - it's important to stipulate that. We all have a very, very long process of reorganization and rethinking ahead of us, and until that process is completed there will be nothing good in Russia, and that will definitely be a 10-20 year task.

How do you feel about the talk that Russia needs "de-imperialization" and "decolonization"?

- It seems to me that although this is not a recipe for happiness, "decolonization" is very important; it has to happen in one way or another, at least culturally, at least on an individual level. This is a super-important thing and, in a sense, why I wrote my novel specifically about queer people and specifically in the provinces. Because "decoloniality" is not just about nations, ethnicities, or regions self-determining; it also applies to ordinary Russians who live in Russia as a colony. What it means to live in a colony: you have no representation, you have resources, but they are taken from you. "Imperialism," it seems to me, is directly related to hierarchy, to authoritarianism, and ultimately to unfreedom.

What can be done to end the war more quickly?

- To tell the truth. What we have to understand is that those outside of Russia have the privilege of being relatively free. Again, this is not to say that we have gained fantastic security, we have not. And what's more, that prison, I can tell you from myself, still walks with you, it's very hard to get rid of it. You can fantasize all you want about yourself, but it's a thing that really, really clings to your brain. First, I have to keep doing what I've been doing, which is to write honestly, do honest theater projects and know in person, remember and communicate with people who live in Russia. The second is to tell the truth. And the third. To think about what we can do when we come back to Russia. For example, now we do theater projects when we are in exile, we stage and read anti-war plays, and all the money we get from these projects goes to help evacuate people from the war zone in Ukraine. In the same way, you can do some projects or donate your money inside Russia to those who are fighting violence in one way or another. Any fight against violence and its normalization will already be effective, and in my deep conviction, work for the war to end faster.

Will you return to Russia when the war is over?

- Yes. One hundred percent, because I'm a Russian author.

Excerpt from "The Border"

Cotton sleeps in an album of quiet irreversibility,
and draws the border of time with its black stem,
but it is impossible to put the still living carnation-Russia into the album.
And I will walk the streets with her,
supporting her sleepy head
for a long, long time,
for a long, long time,
as long as God wills,
Till time
does what it's supposed to do to us,
To hold her close to his broad chest
Where we all have a broken heart,
For we are one,
and the mother country is not divided in two,
the good and the bad,
the living and the dead,
doctor and murderer,
we are all of us,
there's no border.
And we don't care
♪ there's nowhere else ♪
♪ from this ♪
♪ to get away from it anyway ♪

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