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Wolfgang Schälike: Our Goal is to Popularize Dostoevsky in Germany
Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1861. Photo by Mikhail Tulinov (fragment). Photo credit: https://dostoevskiyfm.ru/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/4.jpg
The second centenary of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s birth will be widely celebrated not only in Russia but also in Germany. The German-Russian Institute of Culture in Dresden has launched the Year of Dostoevsky in Germany project. Dr. Wolfgang Schelicke, chairman of the board of the institute, spoke about the events planned and how interest in the writer facilitated bridge-building between our countries.
– How did the idea to hold the Year of Dostoevsky in Germany come about? And was it difficult to implement this project?
– The idea suggested itself in a completely natural way because Dresden is very closely associated with Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Although even in Dresden, few people know that Dostoevsky spent most of his time abroad in this very city. As a rule, Baden-Baden is often mentioned in connection with Dostoevsky. The reason behind it is that back then gambling houses were banned in Saxony, so he used to leave Dresden for Baden-Baden, where he lost massively.
Fyodor Dostoevsky spent more than two years in Dresden. In Soviet times, this fact was not particularly mentioned either, since Dostoevsky first wrote Demons, his prescient novel about terrorism in the 20th century, in Dresden. His daughter Lyubov was born here and here she was christened in the Orthodox community.
It is known that Fyodor Mikhailovich adored the Sistine Madonna, a painting displayed in the Dresden gallery and went to look at it almost every day.
25 years ago, our German-Russian Institute of Culture held a large symposium in honour of the 175th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth. It was dedicated to Demons. Back then, we were able to bring together four presidents of Dostoevsky Societies for the first time ever. I am referring to Russian, German, American, and International societies. And a foundation stone for a future monument to the writer was laid in the Russian Orthodox Church. Having spent years looking for a decent place to install the monument, we finally erected the monument to Dostoevsky by Alexander Rukavishnikov in Dresden in 2006. And we managed to invite Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel to its unveiling.
Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel at the unveiling of the monument to Fyodor Dostoevsky in Dresden. Photo courtesy of the German-Russian Institute of Culture
The library at our German-Russian Institute of Culture was named after Fyodor Dostoevsky 25 years ago. Today it is one of the largest Russian-language libraries in Germany. So it was perfectly natural for us to come up with such an initiative and to combine the Year of Commemoration of the Writer in Germany with the year of the second centenary of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s birth.
On 8 May last year, Michael Kretschmer, the Minister-President of Saxony, took part in commemorative events at the Soviet post cemetery for the first time. It was there that I told him briefly about our initiative regarding the anniversary year. Throughout the summer we proactively communicated with officials of the Saxon State Chancellery and the Ministry of Culture presenting arguments in favour of the Year of Dostoevsky. I believe that since the Minister-President took over the patronage of this project, it is very important in view of German-Russian cultural ties. And thus, we are imposed with great obligations.
– What events are planned for the Year of Dostoevsky in Germany?
– A press conference on the opening of the Year of Dostoevsky in Germany with a greeting from the Minister-President was scheduled for January 14. But due to strict lockdown, we decided to postpone it to a later date. Many other events have also been postponed. For example, the Leipzig Book Fair where it is planned to arrange a stand dedicated to Fyodor Dostoevsky is to be postponed from March to May.
Therefore, on the one hand, we continue to set the events that will be held live. However, there is also a plan B - to transfer them online. For example, the Dostoevsky without Borders conference was scheduled for the International Mother Language Day in February. Representatives of Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Lusatian Serbs living in Germany intended to participate in it. Now we are planning to hold this conference in the second half of the year.
The Week of Germany in St. Petersburg is scheduled for the end of April. Each year it is dedicated to a specific region of Germany. This time Saxony will conduct it. Furthermore, it is not only about the 200th anniversary of Fyodor Mikhailovich’s birth; 2021 is also marked by the 60th anniversary of Dresden and St. Petersburg twinning. And it is clear that the main symbol of this alliance is Dostoevsky. We are on friendly terms with the F.M. Dostoevsky Literary and Memorial Museum in St. Petersburg and have been working with them for many years. And this time we are planning to hold a musical and literary evening there. Also, the museum promised to send us an exhibition dedicated to Dostoevsky. We will do the translation into German and intend to present it in Dresden and other cities of Germany.
In early May, Germany will host the so-called European Week. And as part of this event, we plan to hold Dostoevsky, a Russian European panel discussion. The intention to participate has been already expressed by Igor Volgin, the president of the Dostoevsky Foundation, and Vladimir Kantor, a philosopher; as to the German side, professors of Slavic studies, as well as Christoph Garstka, the chairman of the German Dostoevsky Society who took part in our symposium as a student 25 years ago, have also expressed their interest.
We have been also working on the Following the Footsteps of Fyodor Dostoevsky in Moscow, Dresden, and St. Petersburg international exhibition. Famous German writers, members of the Saxon Academy of Arts, will present their “My Dostoevsky” essays. For example, in 1992, Volker Braun, one of the leading German writers, wrote an essay under the title "Raskolnikov, Trotsky, Gorbachev." Many German writers that were famous more than 100 years ago, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Maria Rilke, showed great interest in Dostoevsky's work.
We do not want to focus on literary experts only listening about their discoveries in Dostoevsky’s work. Our goal is to popularize Dostoevsky in Germany. Therefore, we have come to an agreement with the Saxon Association of Libraries to join the events of the anniversary year. We have created an online platform to host all events dedicated to the Year of Dostoevsky in Germany, even those held independently of the German-Russian Institute of Culture. For example, the other day there was information that our partner in Munich, the MIR association, published a calendar dedicated to Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky. Also, German theaters will certainly stage performances based on Dostoevsky’s works.
The building of the German-Russian Institute of Culture in Dresden. Photo credit: Litrossia.ru
– In your opinion, do German readers find Dostoevsky interesting today?
– Of course, the older generation knows him much better. That is why we want as many events as possible to be held in libraries. For example, three years ago, Vitaly Konstantinov, a Russian artist who lives in Germany, published a comic book with Dostoevsky’s biography. Such a presentation may be of interest to young readers.
The Year of Dostoevsky will conclude in November - December. Vladimir Kochin, the executive director of the Russkiy Mir Foundation, suggested that we hold a meeting of representatives of all Dostoevsky's societies from different countries in Dresden since it would be easier for everyone to come to Germany than to Moscow.
Our task is to build bridges for better mutual understanding between our countries. And such a theme as Dostoevsky, a Russian European shows that Fyodor Mikhailovich influences not only European culture, but also European thought, and the world thought. Therefore, Dostoevsky has been extremely relevant to this day and will be relevant in the future.