It is not enough to ban Dostoevsky (1) | Tunca Arslan

It is not enough to ban Dostoevsky (1) |  Tunca Arslan

Dostoyevsky’s speech during the three-day ceremony held for the opening of the Pushkin statue in Moscow on June 6, 1880, seven months before his death, is of historical importance in terms of both its literary and political content. The world of thought in Russia of the period was divided into two as Westernists and Slavists in general, and Turgenev was the spokesperson for the supporters of Westernization, while Dostoyevsky took the stage on behalf of the Slavists.

When the speech is over, there is great enthusiasm, and congratulations pour in from all sides. Turgenev is among those who celebrate. Dostoyevsky not only talked about and praised the genius of Pushkin, one of the greatest representatives of the Russian spirit in literature, but also referred to “intellectuals who had cut their roots from the people”, and set the target “liberalists who smothered every new word and movement with crone-talk, which sheds a ray of hope for Russia”. The speech led to new discussions and polemics, and his responses to Gradovski, who criticized him, proved that Dostoevsky was a master of polemics.

The articles containing this speech and the discussions that followed were published by BFS Publications in 1987 as a 91-page book, titled “Speech on Pushkin”, with the translation of Tektaş Ağaoğlu. By the way, I should mention that Ağaoğlu, who passed away four years ago, wrote a wonderful foreword to the book.


In the Western world, prohibitions equated with naïveté, not delusions, were made, and Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tarkovsky, Yuri Gagarin, etc. When their names were crossed out, I read this thin book once again years later. As a matter of fact, Dostoevsky said, “If all the wealth that Europe collected and piled up in its cellar came together, it would not be able to save Europe from collapse. I have clearly seen the “justified” reasons for the ban on the great man of letters, who said, “This pus-filled, rotten social order is presented to the public as a goal to be achieved”. On the other hand, I happily realized how similar the Russian liberals, who were “infected with a bit of European socialism” at that time, were to liberals in today’s Turkey.

“The society level that Pushkin dealt with was a tiny group that had uprooted itself from this soil and stood above the people. Pushkin scrutinized this group and showed us the example of the negative man among us. This is a restless man who has not found what he wants. He has no faith in his own country, in the power of his own country. In the end, he comes to the point of denying both Russia and himself (that is, his own social layer, his own intellectual environment),” said Dostoyevsky and continues as follows:


“If Pushkin had not come and put his finger on the wound, we would not have known our disease so closely today. He was the first to console us. He instilled in us the hope that the disease is not lethal. Russian society could be healed, reinvigorated, if it kept its doors open to the truth of the people. He was the first to show us the truth. He was really the first. Who was there before? The moral beauty of Russia, which came straight out of the Russian heartland and emanated from the truth of our people, our own land, found itself in the people whom Pushkin first brought among us.”

Underlining that the Russian nation is not an unconscious herd, detached from the people and condemned to labor for the Europeanized intellectuals to lie down and gain power, Dostoyevsky almost shoots an arrow from the Russian society of 1880 to Turkey of the 2020s:

“Who can claim that the majority of the people in themselves represent a dead stagnation, that nothing can be expected from this people, that they cannot be counted on in any way? However, there are not few of those who make this claim (…) It is literally nonsense to think that our poor and devastated country cannot have such lofty aspirations before it reaches the level of the West in economic and social areas.”

From the point of view of today’s “Western values”, it is not enough to erase Dostoevsky’s name, it would be better if his books were burned along with Pushkin’s!

We will continue next week…

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