Victor Erofeyev: The freest man in Russia

Author Victor Erofeyev has extremist groups in Russia breathing down his neck. ‘There is a civil war going on against the articulate society.’

It is hard to find a more appropriate location for Victor Erofeyev (65). A stone’s throw away from his apartment in the Russian capital Moscow is the famous Khamovniki court. It was here that oligarch Michail Chodorkovski was convicted in December 2010. It was here, too, that in 2012 three members of female punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in a prison colony. Inside, the judge read his verdict. Outside, the crowd protested and the police intervened.

Choose sides
Moscow is in the eye of the storm. From a distance, Erofeyev observes. Since the 2011 parliamentary elections, he has observed the first protests under the reign of Russia’s  big boss Vladimir Putin. He observed the emergence of a civil society, but also house searches and arrests. ‘I observe’, he says in his living room. ‘Russia has intellectuals and authors who show what Russia is and what it should be. But when it comes to the protests in Russia, you have to choose sides.’

Erofeyev has always chosen the opposition’s side, calling upon the Russian leaders to embrace the Western model of democracy. Thanks to his father, who travelled the world as a Soviet diplomat, Erofeyev has never considered communism as the only source of universal happiness and is open to other visions of the world. 

Patriotic turn
His books and his role in the film Russian Libertine do not represent a real threat for the powerful state machinery. Indeed, he is more of an observer than an activist. Erofeyev is not afraid that he will meet the same fate as reporter Anna Politkovskaya, former KGB official Aleksandr Litvinenko and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, all of whom died after being directly confronted with power.

Yet artists and their free thoughts are under attack in contemporary Russia, especially now that the country is taking a patriotic turn under Putin. After having presented the cultural television programme Apokrif on state-owned television channel Koeltoeram for fourteen years, Erofeyev was taken off the air by the government. ‘I think differently, which allows me to influence people. I represent the European values. My daughter is attending a French school. I want Russia to become an ordinary country with European values. That’s why I am a danger to the elite that operates in its own interest and refuses to develop the country.’

Death list
His way of thinking is diametrically opposed to Russian nationalists and radical believers, who might prove to be more dangerous than the state. Tolerated by the Kremlin, they position themselves as the ‘guardians of the real Russia’, free from Western influences.

His brother Andrey, a well-known curator, says in Russian Libertine that he and Victor are on a death list. Previously, Andrey clashed with nationalist and orthodox movements following one of his expositions. ‘On the Internet you can read the death threats I have been subjected to’, Victor says calmly.

By Floris Akkerman