Nothing is true and everything is possible, convinces British journalist and documentary filmmaker Peter Pomerantsev. He has worked on Moscow television for more than nine years. Through his personal experience, he saw firsthand that any fictional story could become truth in Russia if it was effectively presented on television many times.
On September 11, Peter came to Kyiv for the presentation of the Ukrainian translation of his book "Nothing is true and everything is possible" published by the School of Journalism of Ukrainian Catholic University with the support of MYMEDIA.
The book has everything: bandit Russia of the early 90s, prostitutes, jihadists and the terrorist acts they committed in Moscow, sects, suicides, "gold-diggers" looking for the billionaires, and billionaires themselves who made their fortune in the "dashing nineties", and the story of the fattest boy in the world.
In the book, Pomerantsev acts as a narrator. Throughout the story, he is friends with the millionaires and regularly attends the party a la The Great Gatsby with the pathos of post-communist Russia. But suddenly, the audience sees the real Petr (and not Peter as Moscow residents liked to pronounce slowly) – with tousled hair, not very neat shirt, and the phone from the era of "polyphony" and "color screen."
“The book is an attempt to justify the nine years of partying, swelling and abnormal lifestyle spent in Moscow”, says Peter, “It had to explain to my friends where I had been all that time. And I explained. The people told me: "Oh, it is so interesting, you should write a book." And I did.
Why and for whom the book would be interesting, explained Tetyana Matychak, the editor-in-chief of Stop Fake, who also attended the presentation.
“When somebody asks you what Russian propaganda is, just tell them to read Pomerantsev. What is Putin's authoritarianism? Read Pomerantsev. At the same time, there is not a single word about authoritarianism, propaganda, or Putin; it is a universal text to which you can refer for any explanation of the phenomenon, associated with current Russia”.
“Why do you never call Putin by his name in the text, but simply refer to him as the President with the capital P?” asked the author Victoriya Romanyuk, the Head of Master’s Program in Media Communications at UCU and the organizer of the presentation.
“I am not interested in him as a person, and I could not care less about Putin’s psychology although there were many books published on that topic. I have no intention to get into his mind, and I really did not want to write Putin’s biography. I needed him only as a media figure or some media fiction since he is the first president entirely created through the media,” explains Peter.
It is not the first time that the book has been published in the post-Soviet area; it has been released in Estonia and soon to be published in other Baltic countries. But it has not been translated into Russian yet.
Evhen Fedchenko, Director of Mohyla School of Journalism, asked Pomerantsev how the book could interest Russia’s neighbors since they are familiar with all the surreal reality of Kremlin.
“I am amazed that the people in the post-Soviet areas are reading my book. I should ask you what there is that makes you interested. I was just explaining to my friends where I was. Russians, probably, may be interested in the book in twenty years when the generations will change”.
The presentation also covered the differences between Russia and Ukraine.
“Here, there is a horizontal society and historically, there is a very different attitude to the authorities. Odesa, Kramatorsk, Shchastya, Dzerzhynsk and Mariupol are very different cities. The state is not centralized because even during Maydan revolution, every city had its own tent. Dramatics of Odesa is very different from the dramics of Lviv. In Russia, there is only one drama: Moscow and the government, that's all”.
The audience asked the author to associate contemporary Ukraine and Russia with some writers. Ukraine received the title of Isaac Babel, the writer from Odesa during Soviet times. Russia got titles of Bulgakov and Gogol in their darkest incarnations.
“Maybe, there will come Tolstoy and Gorky’s period one day, but for now, it is a complete surrealism,” says the author and then, continues with one of his Moscow stories about how shocking it was to see the “runaways” from taxes when he worked for TNT. “There were 50-70 of us working there. Whenever the tax officials would come, we had to get up and leave quietly. In case anyone would ask what we were doing there, we had to say that we came to some auditions or paid someone a visit. I thought they would be arrested for this and go to jail. But no,” says Pomerantsev.
In the end, the author decided to dispel the myths about the morality of documentary journalism.
“Those who call this profession moral are big liars. You give people a feeling that they will be important and eternal, but you turn them into little cogs in the story you want to tell. And the images the heroes have about themselves never match their images on the screen”.
“For example, the book has a fragment which describes making a film about the fattest boy in the world. His mother was sure that we were making a movie about how great the boy was while we were making a film about his mother killing him because he was the fattest boy in the world, and she was still feeding him pizza all the time. On the one hand, we seemed to be making a moral film with the hope that she would understand everything and stop killing him. But in fact, we were doing a movie for the evening edition on Channel 4 which had to have good ratings and a lot of shots of his body fat”.
Now, the author is already working on a new book about the general mechanisms of propaganda and its influence on the people.
“I am looking for a way to describe the reality through the new literary journalism. This book is a search for a technique to write in the 21st century”.