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Eduard Mizhit: “Through the portrait of Kultegin, we focus on the life of a man and a ruler, who is asked to decide the fate of his nation and to be responsible for it”

A Discussion of the reporter from Tuvinskaya Pravda with the poet and dramaturgist, member of the Writers’ Union and Union of Theatre Workers of Russia, Merited Artist of Republic Tuva, Eduard Mizhit.

-Eduard Bairovich, tell us, please, briefly, about the history of making the play.

-Many years ago, during a discussion with the outstanding director, now a Merited Artist of Russian Federation, national artist Alexei Oorzhak, it became clear that our interests and ideas concerning history of Tuva and its present are very similar.

At that time the idea of producing a trilogy about the ancient history of Tuva was born. The historical drama-essay, which later also became a spectacle, “Who are you, Subedei?” became its first part. The historical drama “Kultegin” is the second part of the planned trilogy. The drama was written in 1996, and in 1997, there were some additions and corrections.

- Written in 1997, and it was no produced until now?

-The production of spectacles base on historical dramas is not a simple matter. Just the process of making of the stage props and sewing of the costumes is very labor-intensive and expensive. Because of that, the production got delayed.

But we were not just sitting with folded hands for all those years. During the period while “Kultegin” was awaiting his time, I was writing and translating into Tuvan language other plays. Alexei Oorzhak was producing them. And then, finally, “Kultegin” stood before the audience. Using this opportunity, let me express my recognition and appreciation to the director-producer, the actors, and everybody who participated in the production of the spectacle, for dedicated, responsible and inspired attitude to the project.

- What was the historical basis for the drama?

-For people, who have at least some interest in history, it is not news that the territory of Sayan-Altai and contemporary Mongolia, around 1500 years ago was the Eastern Turk Empire – the eastern part of the Great Turk Empire, which existed before that.

The most conspicuous figures of the Eastern Turk empire were Bilge-Kagan, (the emperor), his younger brother, Kultegin, and Tonyukuk, the state adviser of 3 emperors.

The realistic legend of the basic events of those days came to us in the form of runic writings on stone steles, found on the territory of Tuva and in the steppes of Mongolia. Beside a multitude of chronicles, especially Chinese ones, these writings are one of the main sources of reliable information about this epoch. It can be surmised that the names of these three statesmen remained in history, mainly, because of their actions, directed towards the unification of scattered nations and tribes, which were once united in a single empire – Khanate. The play is about these events.

-This question may be somewhat inappropriate, but curiosity takes over. What is the basic idea of this production?

- This is not a “flat” re-telling of the history by theatric language, but, in the first place, an attempt at a dialogue with the audience about many, primarily spiritual problems of our times. Because I do not really like productions in which the main ideas lie on a single plane, as far as I am able I am trying to introduce the problem in several layers, to deepen the story.

Therefore here we have layers of problems and questions. For example, through the portrait of Kultegin, we focus on the life a of a man and a ruler, who is asked to decide the fate of his nation and to be responsible for it. It is the theme of a loneliness of a man on the background of eternity, now stormy like the sea, now silent like the endless steppe.

I hope that thinking audience will be able to see the next, deeper layer of questions, which concern the disintegration of our large country in 1991, and the difficult situation of Russia of the 90’s, threatening further fragmentation.

I am not a supporter of the ideology that ruled here for some 70 years, but I am against fragmentation of the nations of the former USSR, tied together by a single historical root system. Isn’t it true that just as the politics of ancient China was aimed at separating the nations of the Great Steppe, whose basis was in Turkic-language tribes, the politics of some contemporary, to put it mildly, interested countries, is directed towards separating the nations of Russia. I hope that the pain and ideas about this will be also heard.

- It seems that you are speaking about some allegorical expression of ideas.

- I do not really like very much to use allegory, the main literary example of which is language of Aesop. I much prefer the language of metaphor, a symbol-laden approach to building the text as a way of saturating the production with many layers of ideas and thoughts, a method, which for many years was not welcome in the literature of our country.

I am not speaking in the sense of the symbolists, even though it is quite close. What I have in mind is the traditional ancient symbolic language of transmittance of spiritual knowledge, tending towards parabola. This method in which a seed hidden within the outwardly attractive subject gradually grows inside the soul of the listener into a certain understanding or surmise. This allows one to get away from a didactic tone, which is dangerous for the writer. When the writer reaches his goal in this layered approach to building the artistic material, the text becomes reminiscent of something like a spiral

of ever deepening ideas.

-What does the name, Kultegin, mean?

-In the book “Histories” of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, there is the story about the first king of the Scythians. Targitai, the father of the first Scythian kings, had three sons; the name of the youngest one was Kolaksai or Kyulaksai. He became the first Scythian king. Not only Herodotus mentions him, but other historians and chroniclers too. Words of this root – kol, kül, kyr, khur, etc, signified, in ancient Indo-European language, the Sun, therefore the meaning of the name was something like “King-Sun”. this root is also present in such Tuvan words like “khün” - sun, Kurbustu – ruler of the Upper World in the myths and stories, “yriankhai”, dropping the initial “kh” sound, etc. So the “Kül” root appears as a component of many Hunnic and Turkic names.

( Some word-roots are common to both Indo-European and Altaic language groups, being older than both, going back to so-called Nostratic layer. HJ).

The word “tegin” is translated as tsarevich of prince.

It is the same thing with the name of the emperor Bilge. In ancient Turkic, it means “wise”, “all-knowing”, and appears to be an epithet of a deity. It is the same root as the Tuvan word “bilig” – knowledge. The reason why all these words are associated with deities, is because the ancient Scythians, Huns, Turks, all derived their descent from the creator of the universe and considered themselves children of the Father-Sky.

-You mentioned that “Kultegin” is the second part of the trilogy. What is planned as the third, culminating part? Or is that a secret?

-I will not go into details, but I will hint that it will concern the Hunnic period. And again, simple depiction of historical events and realities will not be an end in itself, even though that is also very serious.

- Why specifically the Hunnic period?

- Mainly because the historical science has been reviewing many basic ideas, according to which the Tuvans, as a nation, first originated in 17th -18th centuries. Analysis of historical events, language, belief systems, analysis of ethnographic composition of all Turkic nations allows us to understand that in reality, our history goes much deeper and is much more ancient.

On that basis, we are beginning to see the moments of “birth” of our nation, to an extent, in the Hunnic and ancient Turkic epochs. In fact, the archeological discoveries of Scythian kurgans allow us to see the image of our ancient ancestors even in that epoch.

It is generally well known, and I mean in science, that Sakas and Sarmatians, whom the ancient Greeks called Scythians, constituted the origins of many nations of Europe, including Turkic ones.

-Do you have any creative plans, which would concern events in Tuva, let’s say, of about a hundred years ago?

-Historical productions are not everything that I do. There are some preliminary works concerning the present and recent history, namely 17th-18th, and 20th centuries. I will not mention actual names, because they have not been published yet. But, after all I have to admit that I consider poetic creativity the main thing for me.

Biographic information

Mizhit Eduard Bairovich is a poet, prosaicist, dramaturgist, essayist and translator. He is a member of Writers’ Union of Russia. He writes in Russian and Tuvan languages. He was born in 1961 in Torgalyg of Ulug-Khem district of Republic Tuva. He was in the army, graduated from The Institute of Literature A.M. Gorkiy, Participated in the last Universal Conference of Young Writers in Moscow, and regional conference of young writers in Gorno-Altaisk. He is the author of poetic collections “Palitsa Kezera”(1989), “Oskolki” (1992), “Prostye Storoki” (2006), poetry in prose “Zov vzvikhrennogo kolodtsa”(2002), author of the play “Kto ty, Subedei?”(“Who are you, Subedei?”) production which received The Grand-Prix of International Theatre Festival “Tuganlyg” in 2000.

Published in “Anttologiya russkogo verlibra”, almanacs “Istoki”,”den poezii”, journals “Yunost”, “Zemlya Sibir”, “Literaturnaya Uchyoba”, “Ulug-Khem”, newspapers “Literaturnaya gazeta”, “lityeraturnaya Rossia”, “1-oe sentyabra”, “Gumanitarniy fond”, “Kore”, “Sobesednik”, and others.

Currently works at the literature department of Tuvan theatre of music and drama.

Salim Mongush, “Tuvinskaya Pravda”, translated by Heda Jindrak
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