But I didn’t feel like writing a saga, and readers are not interested in reading those either. The best solution was to write down two important reasons.
The first reason. Everyone knows there is no healthy competitive environment in the country. Everything is monopolized. Because everything is monopolized, people are not able to really showcase their abilities. Let just state the fact and make it clear. There are people in the country who own millions, but none of them can stand up and call themselves a millionaire. Let’s say I sold lemonade and became a millionaire. Or, for example, I made millions by selling wine. The word “freedom” has become a phantom. Many people left the country. Those who stayed were doomed to move cautiously. The arts are also monopolized. Business people are afraid to patronize the arts and artists, knowing that the arts and artists are being watched and controlled. One mistake can cost you dearly. If you’re somewhat sober-minded, you understand this. There are also different types of business people. Those who don’t know anything about any arts, those who don’t know what an artist, science, literature and theater are, are in the majority. Those with enough financial resources might at best sponsor a singer or a dancer.
These people, who like to toast the homeland, the nation and the people at gatherings, barely spend five cents on the homeland, the nation and the people. Three or four years ago, I happened to meet with quite a few businessmen about a project. Or rather, there was one person, the project manager, meeting with them, and I would just tag along. Among the people we met were owners of restaurants and recreation and entertainment centers, various workshops and construction companies. These meetings let me see the situation in the country from another angle. The level of culture and behavior of these people were appalling. There were some who literally couldn’t speak properly. It is crazy to expect such people to patronize the arts. They see the arts as an enemy.
It’s impossible to explain to them the importance of the arts and culture. They have their own conversations, their own worlds, their own interests. After seeing them, I realized where the bad taste and banality came from. These people play an exceptional role in spreading bad taste and banality by means of their wealth. They are not aware of their lack of culture. They breed and spread this lack of culture. They pass their bad taste on to others. Because they have material resources. They consider themselves personalities. Others bow to material resources and also accept them as personalities. Thus, banality and bad taste spread like a virus to an entire tribe, village, town, administration, or company.
There is another type of businessmen. Their numbers are much smaller. In many ways, they deserve more respect than the first type. In an informal atmosphere, they say they are heartbroken by the decline of culture today. They complain of banality and bad taste. They seem to want to sponsor the arts… but they can’t. I have met such people. A year ago, we approached a bank director regarding a project. He received us warmly. He listened intently. It was obvious from the way he spoke that he had enough background knowledge of the subject. He talked and talked until he finally said that he would like to support this project, but it was impossible. It could cause him problems. Of course, no one is unaware of the existing situation. It’s just that sometimes people avoid responsibility under the pretext of the situation. They justify all their indifference by saying the system is to blame. Right, we get it, it’s all the system’s fault. We get it, a lot is hinged on the system, the state, the attitude to the arts and artists. Yes, if the patronage of the arts is promoted from above, those below will vote for it. Whether they want to or not. If for no other reason than to suck it up to those above. We understand this. Again, a lot depends on those above. But there is no need to turn blaming the system into a weapon. People have started to use the word “system” to their advantage. They say the system is to blame, but they pursue their own interests and don’t think about anything else. People may say that the system is to blame, but on the inside, they are happy that the system creates a nurturing environment for their indifference. It’s desertion. It’s cowardice. If a businessman creates a small library in his office or home, it will in some way contribute to a common cause, support and development of culture.
Therefore, no one will punish him. No one wants to help the arts aloud. No one forbids buying fifty books and giving them as gifts to employees, relatives, or other right people, or buying a painting and hanging it in the office or at home. There are different ways to show support. Where there is a will there is a way. If you don’t want to, write whatever you write, say whatever you say, it won’t help. That’s the system, but where are the people then? What are the people doing?
The second important reason is that it’s time to write. People heard from somewhere that an artist should go hungry. An artist should wear rags. An artist’s head should be teeming with lice. If you are an artist, you should foam at the mouth from hunger. At best, you should wake up hungry in the afternoon. People are looking for stories. Such-and-such, an artist, got drunk and dropped under a tree.
A writer was starving. I took him to a café and bought him a bowl of soup. I put five manats in his pocket. I said, kid, the eyes of those who cry for the nation will go blind. Save yourself… People are looking for this kind of stories, and when they don’t get them, they feel fooled and insulted by the artist. An artist should starve, then we will see whether he can be called an artist or not. For the people who think this way, an artist can only fill his stomach with his art. In such a country, the respect for a police sergeant is greater than that for an artist, actor or writer. It’s impossible to make a living with art in such a neighborhood, in such a settlement, in such a family—in such a society… There are two ways. Either you have to clown or you need to continue your existence with your stomach now full, now empty. Those artists who are respected are not respected for their art but for the position, for the money, for the mandate, or for having an affair with someone from the upper circles. But why and why don’t people respect the arts and craftsmanship?
There is a very simple answer to this question. In order for something to gain value, it must be given value. If a society doesn’t need a person’s product or profession, then that society does not need that person. It’s that simple. The nation will preserve its culture somehow. Keep it alive. Protect. Develop. It will not put Uzeyir Hajibeyov beneath Uzeyir Mehdizade. The nation needs to understand that life does not consist of sleeping, eating, and bouncing at weddings. The culture of each nation is its most reliable national treasure. It is the duty of the nation to keep the culture alive. No, if the people don’t want to take on such a responsibility, then let them say it openly: we don’t need culture. All we have to do is sleep, eat and drink, and bounce at weddings. The rest is unnecessary. People don’t want to participate in the shaping of culture. They say, I’m just going to go and do my job, and five or six people will make culture for us. They earn money to spend on all kinds of meaningless entertainment, all kinds of meaningless things, and when it comes to books, they think twice before spending five manats—all the while dying to have a serious culture.
Much has been written about the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech writer Milan Kundera. It is worth recalling a point from the novel that fits our theme.
The protagonist of the novel, Tomas, is a doctor. When Soviet tanks enter Czechoslovakia, Tomas writes an article, angering the Soviets. Many of his colleagues stand up for him. But then they start squeezing Tomas from all sides. The chief doctor summons him and urges him to publicly apologize and express his regrets over his writing. All of Tomasz’s colleagues have already signed a letter repudiating it. The only one who endures to the end is Tomas. Tomas somewhat softens, but when he goes out into the corridor, he reads this in the eyes of the doctors, who have already been defeated and apologized, “You will join us too. Don’t drag it out. Be one of us and let’s get this over with.”
These looks, the expectations of his colleagues waiting eagerly and greedily for his betrayal and defeat make Tomas dig his heels in. He doesn’t retract his article and he doesn’t express his regret. So, he is fired. He can’t get any job in any way related to his profession. A highly educated, professional doctor, he eventually begins working for a cleaning company.
In the novel, Kundera focuses on the attitude of the Czech people to their intellectuals. Customers whose windows Tomas cleans have a completely different attitude to him. They greet him with respect, instead of having him wash the windows, they talk to him, treat him nicely, call the company and say that Tomas is a very good employee and that they are very pleased with his work. Women in particular pay attention to Tomas. They jokingly share their gynecological problems with him. But they don’t do this for medical advice—they just want Tomas to feel like a doctor.
… In short, to blame the system is to put it all on the system. It’s a great excuse to avoid responsibility.