We're ending this year of interviews with writer and journalist Radmila Hakova. After ten years working in Moscow and St. Petersburg, she returned to Tatarstan to take part in many social and cultural projects. She set up community affairs services in the parks of Tatarstan, curated the first summer program of Lake Kaban, wrote screenplays for the plays Mergasovsky and 147, organized the So It Was writing course at the initiative of the National Library of Tatarstan, and (in search of like-minded people) came up with
We're ending this year of interviews with writer and journalist Radmila Hakova. After ten years working in Moscow and St. Petersburg, she returned to Tatarstan to take part in many social and cultural projects. She set up community affairs services in the parks of Tatarstan, curated the first summer program of Lake Kaban, wrote screenplays for the plays Mergasovsky and 147, organized the So It Was writing course at the initiative of the National Library of Tatarstan, and (in search of like-minded people) came up with

I grew up in Naberezhnye Chelny in a strict, traditional Tatar family. I was a difficult teenager and I caused a lot of trouble for my relatives; I always wanted to escape from under parental care.
Nikola-Lenivets, the largest art park Europe, surrounds a tiny village in Kaluga Oblast. An open-air collection of works of modern art and architecture unfolded there.

The mind behind the project was artist
Nikolay Polissky.
My grandmother was a teacher, and so was my mother, but I didn't want to teach, so I entered the Faculty of Journalism.

I started working as a journalist my freshman year: I wrote, interviewed people, reported, and I left for St. Petersburg as soon as I received my diploma.

In St. Petersburg, I worked for RBC [Russian Business Consulting, a large Russian media group], and then I wrote about news of the city in Delovoy Peterburg [a business newspaper]

I liked the city, but I had chosen it at random and I started to get the feeling that I had made a mistake, that everything was really happening in Moscow. So, I left for Moscow and became a part of a cool media scene right away.

I produced Snob [a magazine "for the international community of successful professionals"] and wrote for various media.

Then I spent three seasons in the Nikola-Lenivets art park, burying my heart in that land.



In the end, I didn't live in Tatarstan for ten years, but I flew home often, and sometimes I went by train (it's an overnight trip). I began to notice out of the corner of my eye that, if I shifted my focus from my parent's house to the outer world, something was beginning to change. It was a very delicate vibe, a feeling.

I don't know; you just notice it. You see that, people seem to start doing what they want, choose for themselves, choose what is important to them. Like, some small-scale but very cool projects started to appear: Smena (a few astute folks putting on exhibitions, selling good books), other places, that coffee shop made up of one table (Houdini), new services (taxis, beauty, medicine), a bar culture pops up.

Then I started to really want to do something in Tatarstan myself. And that's when a stranger wrote to me, a cook:

"Are you Tatar?"
"Yes, I'm Tatar."
"Do you know how to cook?"
"Sure, I can cook."

And we began to invent Tatar fast food: öçpoçmaq [a triangle shaped pastry] with different fillings: fish, apples, and cabbage! Through it all, we quarreled, argued, and didn't do anything, but I told my friends about my plans.

Then a friend wrote to me on Facebook: "Check this out! You wanted to make new Tatar fast food, but these guys actually did it." It was news about the opening of Tyubetei in the Chernoye Lake Park. I answered: "Cool! Good for them! Shall we fly there and try it?" And Sasha Boyarskaya and I flew to Tatarstan for the weekend as tourists.

That was the first time I looked at Kazan not as a place to pass through, but as a city. At Chernoye Lake we met [advisor to the president of the Republic of Tatarstan] Natasha Fishman. We dined at the Apartment 63 restaurant on Bolshaya Krasnaya Street; that was its heyday: Bulat was the chef and Petr Safiullin designed the interior.


Natasha almost immediately tried to give me a job. I got cold feet and turned her down, just in case, but then curiosity overcame me and I looked for more information about her. I read a pretty good interview with her and, through the text, you can imagine, through the formulations of her thoughts, I believed her and I believed in her.

Natasha made me promise that on my way back I would stop by to talk. I stopped in. She said: "Listen, I have a meeting at Tatmedia; come with me, please, just sit and listen, there will be editors from publications and television, I don't know them. You're at least from here." So, I went.

At some point at the meeting, they began to jump on Natasha, like, "when will work with the media begin already? Where can we get information about what you're doing?" Natasha replied that there hadn't been any time for any of that yet, but there's one local person who can build this system. Then I got up and began to tell them how we'll put it all together, how we'll open up, where they'll be able to get information.

To be honest, I have no idea how it happened myself.

Three days later I rented an apartment, and a week later my friends from Moscow brought my stuff and two cats by car. I got registered at a medical clinic. And then my new life in Tatarstan began very organically.

In this way, in 2015, Natasha Fishman brought me home. Literally returned me. That move was called "the Jewish lady outwitted the Tatar lady" (as my beloved friend Vova put it). I was stressed out then, but now Natasha is grateful for it, although there were ups and downs.
For my first year in Tatarstan they looked at me like a was Zhanna Aguzarova [an avant-garde Russian rock star]. I was kind of weird, too open, maybe. I just felt so safe everywhere, as if the whole world was mine and it was friendly, great, generous! And life was easy!

When I realized—when they made it clear to me—that I was different in some way, I was very surprised. Inside, I saw myself as ordinary and normal as possible.

We're cruel in regards to this: when there's something we don't understand, we stab it with a pitchfork and lift it up to get a better look. Sometimes that kind of attention hurts.

The first year hurt. I wanted to hide out and not do anything else.

Then at some point you raise your head back up, accept reality, grow into it, learn to trust people anew, and become more selective in your friendships.

The second year wasn't as painful. By the third year, if no one's been lying about you for a long time or attacking you, you start to think: "wait, what's going on? Am I not doing anything interesting? Why is no one judging me?"
Kazan is a cool city. I chose it myself. I like everything about it and don't complain about anything. I understand these people; I like to hear Tatar being spoken. I like being close to my family, to my relatives.

I love that I can leave my house and be right in the city without having to drive anywhere. I love Zhukovsky, Tolstoy, Mushtari, and Bolshaya Krasnaya streets, and the shore of Lake Kaban.

I love the airport, traveling and returning home. I love flying very much. I love the airport; the road; the time you spend in the sky, where it's if you're nowhere, you can be with yourself, with your thoughts.
My favorite building in the city is the Ushkova House.

It was incredible luck, just a delightful combination of circumstances, that there, in the cavern of the National Library, I held my first writing course, called So It Was. How did that happen?

Government agencies need to constantly come up with ways to make money (I'm not sure, but it seems their primary plan is to make money); at the same time, it's important, of course, that the methods of making money coincide with the goals of their main activities: like, you wouldn't rent out the library for banquets.

Nargiza Valiakhmetova invited me to come up with a long thematic story related to literature so that it would fit the ideology of the library, cover the lease, and motivate the work of the participants with the foundation.

After the release of my first book, I was often called and asked to talk about how I could write about my life so honestly and sincerely. I said that there was an audience of people who liked it and it could be helpful. We decided that I would compose and conduct a short writing course on how to write about your life. I called it So It Was.

First, we picked twenty-seven books from library's literature, then selected fourteen of those which I used as the basis for a two-month program. I made a curriculum of eight lessons, a workshop, and collective and individual assignments.

I calculated the costs, posted an announcement, and the library shared it. Sixty-four applications came to participate in the course. The cavern comfortably (in order to accommodate a table with a laptop and books) accommodates twelve people. I selected ten applications and invited two interns, and we started.

Under the contract, I rented a room from the library in the evenings on weekdays and in the afternoon on weekends, and we met and studied. The first (golden era) composition of So It Was was made up of people I had never met before who are now my colleagues; we're friends, see each other, sometimes eat together or go to concerts, share our life events with each other. One graduate of the course is already publishing their second book.

At the end of the course, I invited guests: editors from different publishing houses, such as Mif and Eksmo/Bombora from Moscow and Yulbasma and Trehrechye from Kazan). The participants defended their ideas for future books, asked them about the rules for writing a synopsis, and so on.

It was all very cool, despite the fact that, that over a month, with all the expenses for renting the hall and bringing and accommodating guests, I didn't really earn anything. Eight thousand rubles was left over from eighty thousand.

Because there were many applications from different cities, I ran the next one online. This is my job now. There are already fifteen hundred graduates of So It Was, and I have taught it nine times. I ended up a teacher in the end, anyway.

For me, Tatar culture is not a green velvet vest embroidered in gold, but Nurbek Batulla [Tatar modern dancer] on the sand, not wearing a vest—or a shirt at all. It's not Tuqay [Tatar classical poet], but Yoldyz Minnullina [Tatar modern poet]; it's not Salavat, but Gauga, Malsi, Juna, Usal, Radif Kashapov [all Tatar musical acts].
I think Tatars, at heart, consider Tatarstan a separate country. That's my opinion. The president isn't Putin; Putin is in Russia. We have [President of Tatarstan Rustam] Minnikhanov, and to be honest, I like that. I love how we live here. I like that I returned and others are returning. It's a trend, and maybe we're the ones who set it.