Swetlana Alexijewitsch

Belarus

Writer, Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

Guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 2011–2012

Persona female

Persona female

She is the fourth Literature Nobel Laureate among the former guests of the DAAD’s Artists-in-Berlin programme: Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 2015 by the Swedish Academy “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. Earlier, in 2013, the Belarusian writer received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. In her work, Alexievich, who was born in Ukraine in 1948 to a Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father, draws a portrait of the way people live in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine based on interviews with contemporary witnesses. “By means of her extraordinary method – a carefully composed collage of human voices – Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” the Swedish Academy said in its statement.

Thanks to the DAAD’s Artists-in-Berlin programme and my encounters with its guest artists from all over the world, I constantly felt my perspective broadening and my heart opening.
– Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich’s literary method was already developed in her debut work, War’s Unwomanly Face, but in the Soviet Union publication of the book about the fate of female Soviet soldiers in the Second World War was delayed for two years until the beginning of Perestroika in 1985. The writer repeatedly joined in topical political debates, using her truth-seeking poetic documentations to debunk propagandist lies. She even made critical comments in her Nobel Lecture: “I will take the liberty of saying that we missed the chance we had in the 1990s. […] Once again we are living in an era of power. Russians are fighting Ukrainians. Their brothers. […] A time full of hope has been replaced by a time of fear. The era has turned around and headed back in time. The time we live in now is second-hand ....” 

Alexievich completed her most recent work, Second-Hand Time. Life in the Rubble of Socialism, in 2011 and 2012 while a guest of the Artists-in-Berlin programme. “Berlin is a city that lived through all the tragedies of the 20th century and is strongly shaped by them,” she says. “Thanks to the DAAD’s Artists-in-Berlin programme and my encounters with its guest artists from all over the world, I constantly felt my perspective broadening and my heart opening. And that helped me with my work on the novel.”

In May 2015, Svetlana Alexievich was back in Berlin at the invitation of the Artists-in-Berlin programme to take part in a panel discussion, co-hosted by the Federal Foreign Office, alongside Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German Book Prize winner Ursula Krechel and Israeli video artist Dani Gal at the Maxim Gorki Theatre as part of events to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Israel. In the course of this visit, she wrote this about the time she spent as a guest of the Artists-in-Berlin programme: “Berlin enabled me to view everything from a distance, from a peaceful vantage point. Now I can say: I’m not a person that belongs to Eastern Europe – I’m a European.”