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Can't see future for Russia – writer Alexander Pokrovsky

11.01.10
Source: Central Navy Portal, interview by Valery Valkov
Translation: RusNavy.com

Political essays and fictions written by Capt 3 rank retired Alexander Pokrovsky are popular both among submariners who are characters of his books and civilians; Pokrovsky writes scripts for movies such as "72 meters" (by Vladimir Khotinenko) and "Robinson" (by Sergei Bobrov) which premiere is slated for 2010. And today the distinguished writer tells Central Navy Portal about those movies. As well he explains why Bulava does not fly and how they "repaired" Neustrashimy after counter-piracy mission when its sailors were scorbutic; he tells why it's impossible to upbuild hierarchy vertical out of shit and that the root of Russia's evil grows from… nursery.

Alexander Pokrovsky

Why did you choose Navy and embrace a profession of submariner?

My father was native of St. Pete and mom was born in Baku. She studied in Institute of Cinematography (it was a college at that time), when she met my dad, married him and they came to Baku together. Then I was born. In mid 50-ies Baku was a quite picturesque town on the sea; besides, there was a naval school. So, I decided to dedicate my life to the Navy when I turned 17.

I've never been to Baku since nuisance events of early 90-ies. Nevertheless, we had relatives there and it was worth while to repatriate them. Later on, I ruefully watched a video brought from Baku; everything looked so old and abandoned that I barely recalled my native town.

You served at Northern Fleet, right? Where exactly?

That's right, I used to serve in 31st submarine division, Gadzhievo. We lived somewhere near Officers' Club; can't remember where exactly.


Alexander Pokrovsky. 1974

Obviously, throughout your oeuvre Northern Fleet appears like a sort of dominant. Shining example is ratings of "72 meters" based on your bestsellers. What about other screen adaptations?

Well, once I was called by General of the Army Nikolai Pankov – principal secretary and Deputy Minister of Defense. They dug me out through Andrei Konstantinov, although what could be easier than to use a phone directory. They invited me to attend a meeting in Moscow.

I've been at that meeting. There were somewhat five generals and a respectable Capt 1 rank representing the Navy. Everybody took their seats and started to discuss a future movie. That led to nothing. Finally, they asked me, "Can you write the filmscript?" I said "Alright, I'll plot the lit frame and you guys choose the theme you like". They chose piracy. So the book "Tropic of Lieutenant" saw the light. That was romantic tale, in fact. But…no movie so far!

Any other attempts to cinematize your novels except "72 meters"?

They were. Example, serial film "Avtonomka" [i.e. independent sailing, submariners' slang] made by Russian World Studio (RWS). They durst to make a film without asking me. Once they sent me a filmscript of an episode - "Look! Sum up! Comment!"

I said, "Okay, folks, I can help you. But the stuff you have written here is utter poppycock. Either you engage me to correct dialogs or you don't refer to me at all. That's adverse publicity; take away my name out of credit titles!" They were aggrieved.

Actually, I saw something like that only in American toons. Just imagine the plot: a Ukrainian she-spy falls from the clouds down the sea. Then she is found by a submarine. You guys should try to seek out even a wood case at sea when you're standing at a sub's bridge. That is almost impossible. But not in the movie; they found her and got into the sub. There she not only comes round but even intrudes into security room, the place of all classified documents.

You try to do that covertly – no way! Just because of awful sound of alarm buzzing in central station (CS) at attempt to open security room. What we have in the movie? EO screams, "Again?! Why security room is open?" Then security officer answers via intercom, "Security room is opened". And again EO roars as being awaken.

The farther in, the deeper. The girl finds a top secret document about new torpedo! No way again – even experienced security officer could not find anything there without registration number. If the number is known – snap! – he finds a document in the list, then on the shelf and issues it. If you take away the list, he will get lost in his kennel. But smart girl found the confidential document, stole it and slid away. Guess how? Through torpedo tube. I told them to do that just for once!

You have art and part in filmscript of "Robinson". To my knowledge, that was not only studio shooting but field pickup, too – in the north, in Polyarny...

Exactly, that movie is being made by sane guys taken the right track. They bought the screen rights, hired a scriptwriter and remade the novel into filmscript. And I don’t consider it mine anymore – let them dream up. The main thing is they're on topic. Well and good! Once they sent me the filmscript to check whether or nor it is real. Sometimes I suggest masterstrokes, just to make the gun shoot at the end of the story. After all, they've shaped something vaguely resembling life.

I don't abuse the movie at all. The point is that their thing looks nothing like my book. In the film they made a dynasty, a sort of adventure of three friends. Apart from the naval base and marine adventures, the movie shows adventures of those friends, friends of their friends, wives, lovers and so on. A kind of a confusing mix-up. The action takes place in Polyarny. I like one guy there, acoustics officer Orfei Balayan, and I asked my friend Vitya Glazunov, a high-class soundman, to consult the filmcrew in Moscow; so he advise them and correct.

That's going to be a slashing fine film.

Though they couldn't go without fun; when I met with the filmcrew they asked me, "Why Robinson?" The novel has been changed so much that the name origin is obscured.

I explained them, that was supposed to be a story of lieutenant who was posted to sub after graduation. Since the very first day he was put into strength hull. During the cruise, he has to train and shift missile group commander, a "groupman". The poor guy is crammed and taught all the time. As usual, instead of disabled compressor they gave them a flagship's expert. "We assign not just the expert but deputy chief of electromechanic service!" That was customary. Really, once we spent hours under engine underwater operation unit replenishing resources of air-pressure by one compressor instead of three; in such way we sailed the entire cruise.

Then our lieutenant stays alone in compartment after breakdown. That is a plotline of K-19 which was towed to base for a month after fire happened in the sub. And nobody knew there were survivors in stern room.

That is a chance for lieut to use knowledge grinded into his head; to survive when two adjacent compartments burnt out and bulkhead heated up to 100?C.

They left my plot, although it is a tiny episode in the movie. Just a 5-minute scene telling how the officer struggled for life and survived.


Alexander Pokrovsky in cruise. 1978

Did the crackling humor of Pokrovsky remain?

Hopefully, yes. By the way, the film crewmen were greatly astonished that even in such severe conditions of long-term cruise there is a time for jokes and raillery. In the novel there is a missile unit commander who plays everybody up. This character has a real prototype – Capt 2 rank Nikolai Savenko who teased everybody.

Would you tell about such joshes?

In every crew there are humorists, "clowns" always ready to bam. I was a kind of such guy in the crew – played, joked and made "dirty tricks". For example, wall summaries. You charge a poor seaman barely speaking Russian to draw such summary report and then all narratees read that oeuvre resisting laughter.

Zampolit [deputy commander for political affairs] bawled his hoarse when saw such summary at the wall.

We often teased zampolit. There was a turntable in the messroom and one crocked platter; until playing, it swished for a while. So, we turned the volume to the max and got out of the room. Soon the platter suddenly skirled and our half asleep zam rushed in but there was nobody in the messroom. We did that many times – you just put the platter, turn volume to the max and get out; zampolit comes and the music blares.

Then our poor zam stole the platter.

After that every morning at 04.00 am appeared a wall summary with caricature and a call - "Kick back the platter, thief!"

Zampolit tore the summary down, but it stubbornly appeared again and again.

Once we played a joke on zampolit. We brought a telegram allegedly received by radio room with news about baby mammoth Dima found, exhumed and revived by scientists. The bird-brain zam took the news at their face value and read a lecture about achievements of Soviet science. We were sitting with moveless countenances trying to cover laugh while zampolit pontificated his lecture.

In real cruise there is no space for romanticism and monotony either; stress and scurry are what come routinely there.

Danger causes agility of mind – the higher danger, the more spacious intellect. Indeed, surface mariners have plenty of danger, too. They're sometimes on fire, but do not go down. When you inside sardine can, you may feed the fishes. If our army guys serve in Iraq, they'd probably be wiser.

Look, we had wasted 2 hours at that top-level meeting talking about nothing. What they needed was just to define the subject and ask me, "Will you write?" I'd answer, "No problem". That's all.

What we have instead? Things are going in a way that makes me see – the war hasn't started yet but we've already lost it. They've hit us by the time we figured out it was war. There is nothing common with combat readiness.

Somebody told me a story. There was a briefing in Chechnya; they analyzed the plan of forthcoming raid. Everything was clear and up to plan – move, secure, prepare to defend. Then a lieut asked, "What about river crossing?" They shushed, "Lieutenant, chuck it, what river?!" As it happens, they forgot about river and ferrying facilities!

Through my life I've met an array of generals and admirals; they seem to use their own logic.

Once, taking part in a distant cruise I was the only guy who reported of not mission capable. All reported they were ready except me. Rubber gaskets of two-way valves were not replaced, and I had no SPTA set on board; if something happens, it would be a breakdown. As indicated in technical service report, everything was good and mission capable. I said to Admiral Loikanen that I had not accepted the work and sign anything. Generally, I was not ready due to materiel failure.

He said, "Dismissed, you and commander stay here. Commander, why he is not short-haired? Reprimand him!"

I contradicted, "Sir, if I have my hair cut, this will unlikely help to change gaskets".

Admiral said, "Commander, you discipline him later".

I was kicked out of the room; commander remained.

Then he came out in a twitter of indignation.

I was punished soon. Nevertheless, they changed gaskets in an hour.


Alexander Pokrovsky. 1975

You wrote in "Interview to Myself" that you'd not ask the president questions. What about Navy Commander-in-Chief?

I would not either. The point is that there are people who realize how awesome is happening and there are people who do not. The latter group is where Commander-in-Chiefs come from.

Look what happens – the sub sailed off, got broken and returned back. Even the only Black Sea Fleet's submarine could not return under its own power. The crew guys did everything right, although could not make the sub move. Why did they start the cruise then? Just repair the sub and nothing will break. Is it so incomprehensible?!

Steregushy has neither sonars nor radars. Who needs such a tin can? Who needs dummies? Let us build rubber inflatable ships then. Let us set them afloat and have a nice inflatable navy.

So why are you guys holding high posts in Moscow when you can't just order to repair a sub or train officers properly? You'd better stay at home wearing admiral epaulets and doing nothing. Result would be the same.

If commander-in-chiefs are supposed to be aware of situation, they should not sleep at all.

Neustrashimy sailed off to fight piracy. Why? How? God knows. Logically, it should be like follows. Helicopters find and scupper pirate boats, then comes warship and pick up survivors. That is my view on counter-piracy tactics. High mobility is essential. Let an aircraft carrier be anchored thereabout – an American or French one, no matter. Or divide the ocean among countries and place a frigate with helicopter on board at every responsibility area – and farewell pirates! Cordon the region and tiny fast pirate motorboats would be blocked.

Is there any need to dispatch nuclear-powered battlecruiser there? Of course, it has a helicopter, but only one. Its mighty missiles are useless in anti-piracy fight.

But when strategy fails, heroes start to emerge. And they did.

You ask me why?

At that meeting on the movie I asked, "Why are you guys so inefficient in countering piracy? Why can't you protect Russian sailors and ships? You'd better dispatch a destroyer there!" So they did. By the way, even after repair Neustrashimy has bow-down angle of 5 degrees. I've no idea how it sails and fires now.

Two seamen were sick scurvy during that long-term cruise. I was told about that and then mentioned in interview. Just imagine, in response they set nothing less than a special investigation to prove sailors were not sick and Pokrovsky told a lie.

How one could keep well when cooling unit is out of service and temperature at machinery compartment raised up to 70?C?

In such conditions of heat and humidity vitamins are ineffectual remedy.

And poor seamen stay in this machinery room since the very beginning of cruise. No wonder, they turned sick in half a year.

Could you tell us another technique to fight sea robbery and terrorism?

Turkey is a good example; its navy is twice as big as our Black Sea Fleet. When Chechen captors hijacked a passenger ship, Turkish authorities immediately unscrambled the situation. They gathered hijackers' relatives on the quay and delivered an ultimatum, so Chechens gave up.

We have plenty of examples in our history, too. During Polish invasion early XVII century, Nizhny Novgorod militia could not been formed easily. Merchants did not want to sponsor troops until their families were taken hostage.

Here comes a great example of national unity. We live discretely 364 days in a year and only in one day we are united. "National Unity Day" – sounds good for the holiday which has been barely named.

The history should contain myths. What's your attitude towards political parties?

Once I was invited to join "United Russia". Well, the point is not that I don't like UR, I just disrelish all parties. There is ancient Chinese definition of party – two hieroglyphs meant "adore darkness". It is my belief that these dark dealings consolidate people under lightful motto. Confucius thought like that: an honest man does not need party for he is always active and does not compromise. You may not hold by what Confucius said, but I do. Just because he was a good public person.

Generally, when you take a dive into Russian language, it will turn out to be unique.

Look, everybody breathes oxygen and take no notice of that. But as soon as there's lack of oxygen, we stifle. Nobody think of that or say "I like oxygen". Moreover, it's incorrect to say it in Russian.

We see the same with unity. If people are united, nobody remember that. Sane humans will never say, "We're about to unite!" or "We are patriots!" And if there's no unity, the party "United Russia" appears; if there's no righteousness – "Righteous Russia"; if there's no patriotism – "Patriots of Russia".

I don't want to take part in this clownery. I'm not a member of any party either. There's no a party of honest people as they do not need it. Perhaps, that is the reason why honest people always lose – dishonest people are united while honest ones are not.

There's an interesting thought in your "Interview to Myself" – mankind is getting dark and killing itself. Could you explain, please?

Humankind has expanded so much that economic crisis is felt in global scale. We should change something in our minds. It is being changed, although very slow. All those G8 and G20 summits are willy-nilly measures because they can't come to terms with each other. Finally they will, they have to. And we will have to scavenge by ourselves.

Eventually, mankind will stop getting dark. Otherwise it won't exist at all.

There's been always a group of people who want to appropriate someone else's things.

Hopefully, their number will progressively decrease.

Everything changes, even morals and ethics. At the time of Peter the Great it was ethical to behead a traitor; to impale an enemy was also ethical in epoch of Ivan the Terrible. Alexander Nevsky tore out nostrils of Novgorod people – for the glory of Russia. You see, nobody reproaches him, "You, saint blessed atheling Alexander, what have you done? Why didn't you beat Mongolian invaders but your native people, Pskov and Novgorod residents?"

Everything changes except human dignity. This core goes through centuries and its interpretation has not been changed.

Do you think religion underlies morals?

Morals is what society considers customary at present time. It is how society defines good and evil. All world religions developed a kind of honor code based on that definition – thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, etc. All religions did that much the same.

Even Tungus tribes which had "Golden Kingdom" at one time also had the honor code. They'd come to it themselves and that were just the same canons without any dispensation.

Religion is just a camp-follower, I guess.

I have always asked myself what religion is. At all times it has been as follows: a sovereign comes and tries to consolidate territories. He does it with fire and sword. First he needs hundred swords, then – thousand, thereafter – hundred of thousands swords. Finally, he reaches a decision that neither swords nor time is enough for further consolidation. Suddenly a monk appeares alongside who says, "Let's create a religion! That's simple! We will teach people – there is Lord up above, you are the Lord's Anointed. Things will come right as we will teach people how to live right". Ethiopians are Orthodox Christians like we are, but their Orthodoxy is different, something between Judaists and Christians; III-IV A.D. At that time most of African tribes wore amulets. "You've got an amulet? How exciting! Here we have a missionary; he'll tell you how to wear it right!" And the priest wrote Holy Scriptures on the amulet instead of aboriginal jabberwockies and hung it on the neck. All were pleased. By the way, do you know why Peter the Great took Ethiopian boy as an apprentice? And not the ordinary boy but the prince! Ethiopia was a powerful state at that time and Russia concluded a strategic alliance with it, having shared the world equally – north is for Russia, south is for Ethiopia. Upon returning from Russia, that boy should have lead African armies. Russia's allied armies, take note.

So, in this world everything has been always proceeding as follows – at first, leaders tried to consolidate lands and people by force; when they realized it was not enough, religions came to play. Ancient Rome did the same – pressing their Christians at first, they fought until awoke that Christians were right after all! You were born as a slave – don't be so tragic about it, stick it and pray – and in the next life you'll be luckier.


Alexander Pokrovsky. 1977

How do you find an idea to institute chaplains?

All is well except bastinado. If commanders can't find the answer to hazing, they should hire priests or imams, whoever, but pull it off.

Generally, it's better to start in nursery.

Why Bulava can't fly? Just because somebody had problems in nursery. Bulava is a sort of iceberg's tip; we got what we deserve. We whomped up a missile but it doesn't fly. Why? We just forgot about this small screw and that stud is too big and so on.

First missile stage couldn't fly, now doesn't third one. Formerly, it couldn't break the surface, now it does, but can't fly. Then again problems will happen to first stage. We should simply get rid of blunts. I'm talking about that meeting in defense ministry – we kept eye contact for 1.5 hours, but the matter was elementary.

Once again: we do need to start from the nursery.

Get me right, we can't do without education today. We need to have good school education and good teachers since culture is basement for everything.

Take note, culture differs from cultural layer. The layer turns into culture in thousand years. I wonder why we always need to throw away something. Why "down to bottom and then…"?

Chaplains will serve in the military? Let it go.

But Bulava must fly though.

Everything is interrelated in the Universe and subject to one rule; the rule of accord and subordination. Take as an instance human body – chemical elements came to accord to coexist in peace. But why this physiological solution is orthograde while others walk on all fours? That was the accord – let the Brain be at the top and take care of others; that would be the best way. So does the Brain. For example, it cares of the Feet – you never walk barefoot when damp weather, right? The brain says, "Get dressed, you fool, or you'd go sick!"

Tell me why we don't have such system in government? If human body has brain at the top why government has trash there? It should not be like that. The Feet can't take care of the Brain. It is the Brain who must care of the Feet.

That is the reason of all our troubles.

There's no need to blame a designer # 75 for Bulava misfortune. The poor guy did not get enough fish in the nursery so his brain has not been imbued with phosphor.

I repeat unceasingly, everything must be thought over in nursery, then – in school, after that – in institute.

You remember Joseph Stalin? Once he realized that socialism would start to emerge when you execute 50,000 people. So he did. He executed somewhat two million people.

But Stalin has already lost the game – socialism is over.

However, inertia of motion had been kept for some time. All scientists and designers genetically remembered that they could be executed, although nobody was going to do that.

Stalin had built the core.

The core stayed until the very end of Brezhnev's epoch.

Then the whole generation of those scientists was over. The current one can't do anything. And they're not frightened either. The genetics of execution fell into oblivion. We need a new genetics, but there's nowhere to take it from. The old one is over; the new one has not been formed. That is why we feel lack of education. All we have now are outbursts; it's not a system. No system, no education. And it will never be.

I repeat for the thousandth time, education is basement of all other things.

Children born in 90-ies can't even form a simple logical equation sometimes. They were born in the period of breakup. They were by themselves and the country was rolling by itself.

But they had survived. After all, they're better than we are; they're kids of the Universe. Though, it's impossible to teach them patriotism. For them, this sense is inaccessible. Teachers missed the chance. Either you have patriotism or not – tertium non datur. And it rests on mutuality and love. We must love people, our people, those who are your subordinates. As well as take care of them. That is more than simple – one should just sincerely love fellow creatures. If you don't care of people, they won't be patriots at all. There's no source for patriotism. Remember? When oxygen is enough nobody thinks about it.

What if not enough?

A kid should love his kindergarten teacher. This would be only if teacher works not just to raise money, if he is honest himself.

Other example is medicine. What kind of medicine we have when it's considered ethical to give anesthetics to 80-year old people instead of pharmaceuticals? Let them die themselves?

There you have the medicine.

There you have the morals.


Alexander Pokrovsky in cruise. 1978

People make no mistake about it.

Our state has no background to make physiological solution stay vertically. One can't erect a core out of shit – it will fall down.

Last question. Have you left naval theme in your oeuvre?

Rather, naval theme hasn't faded away as they don't let it do so. Everybody applies considering me an expert. Well, I'm not an expert; I can just express my personal opinion. Look, United Russia attempts to scoop me in a dispute as an expert in military reform, "Do we really need ΰ military reform?" Hey, you guys have spent months on it and now you're asking me whether we need it or not? That's an absurd…

Let me tell you how you did that reform.

Everything has been invented, but you want twice two to be six. Possible? No.

Twice two is four; there's no another logic.

Perhaps, we do everything right, but why should we cut off a leg to replace with another one. "Your leg is not so muscular; we'll give you the better one!" – pop! – cut it off and start to sew another one at once.

But it doesn't accrete.

Another ask – please, take away bribetakers! I'm begging you! Just find those who don't take bribes! Start with one man and he will gather honest people around.

How to find this kind of guy?

Just surf the web – you'll find everything. Enquire profile of a man and receive the answer – he served somewhere and there were lots of oil tankers at the pier. Okay, folks, he's embezzler; forget him!

Another one – he served there underneath Mr. Kuroedov… Ah, Kuroedov – put aside.

We should clean out the whole space around us. Let it be only one man but honest one. At least, this is better than deal with 100 swindlers.

We should be honest, that's as simple as ABC. We should better think of Russia.

And we should better use heads unless there're asses instead.

I'm not a pessimist but I can't see the future for Russia if things are going like this. Future is different and has probabilistic nature. To see future, we should learn to hold the earth bowl in hands. Just try to imagine Russia on your hands...