Outspoken author Lyudmila Ulitskaya has become the first-ever Russian to win the Austrian State Prize for European Literature for her contributions to literature to date. Ulitskaya was presented with a prize of €25,000 at an award ceremony in Salzburg last month, where she gave a speech which looked back at the tradition of dissident literature during the Soviet Union. Ulitskaya, known for her vocal criticism of the Russian government, reiterated the importance of culture and literature as a means of “uniting those divided by state borders, ideological, religious and national boundaries”.
During the ceremony, Austrian Minister of Culture Josef Ostermayer acknowledged the difficult political landscape in Europe and Russia. He said: “In times where agitation, nationalism, chauvinism and ignorance in Russia, but even in many other places of the world, gain the upper hand, European cultural exchange on a high level is especially necessary. With a European Union passport or not.”
In recent months, Ulitskaya has spoken out against the recent crackdowns on freedom of speech and independent media in Russia. In February, Ultiskaya wrote a damning article in The Guardian in which she expressed her fear over “the authorities’ attempts to impose on us a cultural ideology that, in many respects, mimics the style of Soviet-era propaganda”.
Ulitskaya, nominated four times for the Russian Booker Prize, holds the record for the most nominations for the award, winning the prize in 2001 for her novel Kukotsky’s Case.
The Austrian State Prize for European Literature was established in Vienna in 1965, with previous winners including Simone de Beauvoir (1978), Harold Pinter (1973) and Salman Rushdie (1992).