Victoria Lomasko in Livres Hebdo

Victoria Lomasko, "Russia turned into a fascist state before my eyes"

1 June 2022 Russian author and activist, Victoria Lomasko decided to leave her country last March. In Europe for the past few months, she has been working with a team of documentarians on a film dedicated to her. 

War and hardening of the regime forces some Russian artists to leave their country in recent months. An escape from the brushes to which the author and graphic designer Victoria Lomasko did not escape. In exile, she managed to obtain a visa until the end of the summer in Europe. From there, she looks to the East to continue, whatever happens, to talk about those whose faces never appear in the media. 

[Interview translated from Russian by Gérald Auclin]

Your next graphic novel, The Last Soviet Artist is built like a real journalistic report. Can you tell us more?

I started collecting material for The Last Soviet Artist in 2014. My initial idea was to depict the social changes that had taken place in the fifteen former Soviet republics such as Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Georgia or even the Caucasus of Nord , and to show how the “post-Soviet space” had changed. The pandemic has put an end to my graphic reporting projects in Ukraine and the Baltic countries. But in 2020, I managed to get to Minsk where I documented the Belarusian revolution for a week. My book ends with two reports from 2021 on political and social life in Moscow.

Your book also ends at a key moment in history...

I finished the book a week before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With the layout complete, I thought my book felt like a final farewell to the post-Soviet era and to my Last Soviet Artist persona . The war started a few days later. It turned out that the transformation of Soviet space was impossible without combat, and my own transformation was impossible without exile.


 Photo THE LAST SOVIET ARTIST: VICTORIA LOMASKO, THE HOOCHIE COOCHIE, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, 2022

Does creating in Russia nowadays imply a form of opposition?

The current events - the war in Ukraine and the dictatorship in Russia - are the peak of the Putin regime, but that does not mean that there was a democracy and a healthy society in Russia before the war. I thought my duty as an artist was to document how the country was sinking into dictatorship and how a small part of society was trying to oppose it. In the last chapter of The Last Soviet Artist , I compare the strategy of activists who try to organize even tiny actions and that of artists who stay at home like hermits and make art. This chapter is the admission that artists interest me much more than activists. I believe that real art is more life changing than manifestations.

Your books are all very realistic and often based on reports. Why ?

I don't know how to invent fantastic stories, but I like to observe reality, draw on the spot and listen to the stories people tell. I have always been very interested in the stories of fragile social groups and those of people who do not integrate into contemporary Russia and who try to create autonomous communities. I don't know why, but the invisible and the forbidden have always attracted me.

The titles of Victoria Iomasko in France

  • Forbidden Art: Art, Blasphemy and Justice in Putin's Russia , Viktoria Lomasko, Anton Nikolaïev, translated from Russian by Anna Zaytseva and Gérald Auclin, The Hoochie Coochie, 2014
  • Other Russias , Viktoria Lomasko, translated from Russian by Gérald Auclin, The Hoochie Coochie, 2018
  • The Last Soviet Artist , Victoria Lomasko, translated from Russian by Gérald Auclin, The Hoochie Coochie, to be published in 2023


Your works are published in Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland and Spain but not in Russia…

My first book, Forbidden Art , was published in 2011 in Russia, under the presidency of Dmitri Medvedev. It was a more relaxed time. In 2012, Putin became president again. A year later, my graphic reports were only published in Russia on the independent liberal site colta.ru . Roskomnadzor recently blocked it because of articles against the war in Ukraine. Four years ago, I consulted a lawyer to find out what the consequences would be if my book Other Russiaswas published in Russia. He told me that the repressive new laws were purposely vague, so it was unclear whether the publisher and I faced two or ten years in prison. Of course, I gave up the idea of ​​publishing it in Russia.

Last March you decided to leave the country and join France. Why this choice ?

I was not looking to flee to France, but I had the firm intention of leaving Russia, which was transformed into a fascist state before my eyes. Even before the war, it was dangerous for me to live and work there. It was only a matter of time before I was put on the "foreign agent" list. Now, criticizing the regime or cooperating with Western organizations is considered a crime. From the day the war broke out, I also became incompatible with this regime. To be against the war in Ukraine is a crime. The power is already drawing up lists of “national-traitors” and drawing Zs on their doors. With this, the country's borders are almost completely closed.

 
The Last Soviet Artist: Victoria Lomasko, The Hoochie Coochie, all rights reserved, 2022


What echoes do you have of the Russian population?

In today's world, there is this huge territory populated by several million inhabitants, 80% of whom believe in the total lie… almost all the links between this territory and the rest of the world are now destroyed. I don't think this is going to end well.


How was your trip and obtaining your visa?

When the war broke out, I had no visa or money to try to escape to Europe or America. I bought a plane ticket to Kyrgyzstan and went to live in this country that I know well. The day I left for Bishkek [the capital of Kyrgyzstan, NdT], I received a call from the Belgian producers who started shooting a documentary about me in 2021. They told me to go immediately to the French Embassy where by some miracle I was issued a visa a few hours before my flight. From Bishkek, I flew to Paris via Istanbul. The film producers welcomed me in Paris and took me to Brussels. Since then I have been living in Brussels where we are working on the documentary. I don't know yet what I will do next, but I will not return to Russia until the regime changes.

1 June 2022
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