Actor Andris Lielais: In Latvia, you don't see the pure propaganda alcohol served in aluminum mugs

Andris falls silent several times during our conversation, because... he gets choked with tears. He pulls himself together and continues to explain his point of view. This is not easy to do. Because you have to know how to stay silent under Russia's total censorship. The actor Andris Lielais has lived in Russia for several decades. Today - an interview with Andris.
15.03.2022. Elita Veidemane
©Dāvis Ūlands/F64

Andris Lielais: I feel like a new Awakening has begun in Latvia - on a new level and scale of responsibility. I feel that I can be happy and proud of my nation.

The strongest emotional experience for me was when I watched the march that flowed from the Freedom Monument to the Ukrainian Embassy. The President and his wife were right there with the people. I also felt myself being with everyone. With adults, children, young people... I saw serious, but spiritually bright people, who were crying out for truth and dignity.

But of course, it is naive to announce the outcome of a battle before the result. You understand, I have to be careful with my words, because I am in Russia.

But I do not doubt for a moment that the light will overcome the darkness and that this victory will be won by all nations together. And those who have still hesitated to open their minds, hearts and feelings to the side where they are happy and where they are welcomed and loved unconditionally, I urge them to do so. The more you cry, the tighter they will embrace you... I am with Latvia, with all of you in the openness of your hearts. I do not want to let the hatred that is boiling inside me pass my lips. I want to turn this hatred into love for those who fight against evil.

Hatred at what?

I have hatred for those who today - we are talking on March 11 - started bombing my wife Irina's birthplace in Ukraine, near the Dnieper. That means that they are also bombing my birthplace, because my wife and I are one.

I cry every morning when I read the news. Out of hatred and helplessness. And all I want is for Putin, the Kremlin's leading fascist, to croak... Completely unliterary language, I'm sorry, but I can't say it any other way. And may his associates, who are war criminals like him, reach the same end.

Now, in my situation - and you have to understand this - I cannot agree with your words, I hear them, I do not oppose them. But the problem is deeper and bigger. Putin is the tip of the iceberg of the problem, and the label that you have given is too worn, so the world will create a new label, because what is happening now is unprecedented. Moreover, Russian propaganda has now won over the West. I know the mechanism. It all started before the Crimean events: there was Russian propaganda against Ukraine, but it was rather weak. They found the subject of the "Banderites", but it was all unconvincing.

And then I remembered a TV story with Putin walking into a small church in the Sparrow Hills and holding a burning candle. A journalist asks him: what did you light the candle for? "For Novorossiya", he replies. Shortly afterwards, the events in Donbas and Luhansk began. Various propaganda workers travelled there en masse and constantly broadcast the necessary information to Russian viewers and readers. This is still happening now, with multiplied force. In Latvia, you do not see the pure propaganda alcohol served in aluminum mugs...

I hate seeing it. We need truthful information.

You see, there is a saying: while the truth is still pulling on its boots, the lies have already gone around half the world.

Indeed: how quickly the Russians' nonsense stories about migratory birds infected with plague bacteria flying to Russia "went round the world".

Unfortunately, the crazier and more unbelievable the lies, the quicker they are believed, especially in a bullied country like Russia today, where liking the wrong post online carries a three-year sentence and a publication can get you up to eight years in prison. Still others say: well, things are about to change in Russia, it's very crazy there. Nothing will change there. There is a team around Putin that has never been more united. The Nobel Prize winner Dmitry Muratov recently said that the Russian pyramid of power is like the Egyptian pyramids, where it is impossible to push even a razor between the stones.

Then we cannot expect, for example, that Putin will be poisoned.

These are just fairy tales and hopes. And it is quite irresponsible, when you are in another country, to call to action those who are here in Russia. To call the youth of Moscow or other cities to take to the streets - for them it means to lose their entire future and to go to prison. If there is anyone brave enough - go to Moscow, find where Red Square is, take a poster, stand and shout your slogans, feel it all for yourself. It is easy to be a hero when you are not in danger and you will not get in trouble.

If there are no mass protests in Russia against the war, nothing will change.

If you all really love Ukraine as I love Ukraine, and if you could hear what my wife, whose hometown was bombed today and whose ancestors are buried both near the Dnieper and in Babyn Yar, says and thinks, then I will tell you this: demand that the skies over Ukraine be closed at last! And go to the embassies that can do it. And do not rest until the skies are closed! If you really love Ukraine.

I'm sorry for shouting, but I'm not shouting at you... But I have to open my heart, I don't have to think how polite I am anymore.

How hard it is for me, only I know. But how hard it is for my sons here... In 2002, when the Latvian hockey team beat the Russian team in St Petersburg, and when Artūrs Irbe said that the game was like fighting on a battlefield for him, my boy, who was 17 at the time, put on a Latvian national hockey jersey, went to a shop and bought me a beer. In Moscow!

My two sons have never given up their names: the eldest is Andris, and the youngest is Jānis. When our eldest son was born, Irina didn't know any other Latvian male names - only Andris. And the name of the youngest is Jānis because he was born when a Latvian school was founded in Moscow near the Latvian Embassy, and it was opened by Jānis Peters.

Recently, Natālija Djušena, the widow of Andris Slapiņš, and I took part in a round table discussion on the ethnography of the Baltic people at the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. There is a huge interest in academic circles about Latvia, about the Baltics. Yes... And Natalia has been living in Moscow with Andris' children for several years. She told me again what it was like during the shooting in January 1991, when she ran to the Riga Cathedral, but Natālija was not allowed to see Andris, who had already bled out from his wound... At that moment, Natālija felt that she was not alone. The new life made itself known...

Andris Slapiņš was filming what was happening in Latvia. Until the last moment of his life. Everyone leaves evidence of their life - some more, some less. And so do you. Your contribution is not only the photographs and filmstrips of the Awakening but also your participation in many Russian TV talk shows, where you fiercely defended Latvia.

I am often asked: how much do they pay you for appearing on those Russian TV talk shows? How much am I paid? If I was paid as you say, my wife and I would have been sitting in Dubai smoking cigars a long time ago. But I have the same principle as Venediktov (Alexei Venediktov, head of the radio station "Eho Moskvi" - E.V.) - to use every opportunity to speak and not to leave the trenches until the last moment. You have to use this opportunity to express yourself until the last moment - until the moment when your mouth is shut with force.

Many people ask: why doesn't Andris Lielais come to Latvia? How is it possible to live in Russia now? What's the problem of leaving criminal Russia and returning to one's homeland?

There are no problems. I started coming to Latvia at the beginning of the Awakening because I realized that I had to be there. That I had to immortalize everything that was happening on cameras and film and urgently make it known to the world. Now... I could find my way to Latvia because I have a Latvian passport. But I cannot take my wife, who is a Russian citizen, and she cannot enter Latvia now because nobody will give her a visa. What should I do now? Leave my wife, sons and grandsons and go to Latvia alone?

Both my sons, Andris and Jānis, and Natālija's children, Anna and Andris, had to choose which citizenship to pick. They have lived here all their lives, had to finish university, get a job... For my sons, Latvia is their father's homeland, they have been to my mother's home in Jūrmala, they went to a Latvian school, there are Latvian books on the shelves. They carry their Latvian names and surnames in Russia.

But at the age of 25, they were stripped of that shield - Latvian citizenship - and that was it... The Latvian authorities took it away because Russian Latvians are denied dual citizenship. It seems that Russian Latvians are not Latvians of the world... But with the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers, Latvian citizenship can be retained. Andris and Anna Slapiņš retained their citizenship. I have no questions why, it's all clear. It was a special case. But it is also a special case now - the situation in the world. It is not that I am special, but the situation, because the war has changed the demands on everyone, and wartime decisions cannot be the same as peacetime decisions. The possibilities of taking extraordinary decisions must be adapted to extraordinary circumstances. Then I would find my zeal for Latvia, and not just me, but all of us - our whole family.

I asked my son Jānis: do you want to be a Latvian citizen, do you want to be in Latvia? More than anything in life, he answered. Now we have to think about how we can realize this dream.

There is also the problem that it is impossible to sell the apartment. No, of course, you can do it, but only for wooden rubles. But to convert them into currency and take them out - that is impossible. Maybe there is a Latvian Russian who wants to go to Moscow? Then we could start talking about an exchange of property. Everything is now in kind, not in money.

It is now becoming almost impossible to do practical things. It was hardly conceivable to normal people that the Kremlin thug Putin would decide to start a bloody war.

On the morning of February 24, when I started to wake up and look for my phone, Irina had already woken up. She said to me, in complete shock, just three words: "Andris, они начали..." (Andris, they have started - Russian) I asked, "What have they started?" "They are bombing Ukraine, they have started a war," Irina replied.

And now I am thinking about how to explain all this to my grandchildren, Miks and Toms, who are five and eight years old. I want them to go to Latvia one day, to their ancestral homeland, to run barefoot on the sand dunes of Jūrmala, to see the sea... To hear the Latvian language. To taste Latvian bread. To carry this indescribable love of their homeland to their children and grandchildren.


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