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Russian dissident poet Rubinstein dead at 76

Lev Rubinstein talking to journalists in 2018
Lev Rubinstein talking to journalists in 2018 - Copyright AFP -
Lev Rubinstein talking to journalists in 2018 - Copyright AFP -

Russian poet Lev Rubinstein, a key figure of the Soviet underground literary scene who later protested against President Vladimir Putin, has died days after being hit by a car, his daughter said Sunday.

Rubinstein is considered as one of the founders of the Russian conceptualist movement, a literary “avant-garde” that mocked the official doctrine of socialist realism in the 1970s-1980s.

“My dad, Lev Rubinstein, died today,” his daughter Maria wrote on a “LiveJournal” blog picked up by Russian media. 

The 76-year-old was hit by a car in Moscow on January 8 and hospitalised in a serious condition.

The Moscow department of transport said “the driver did not slow down” as Rubinstein was crossing the street.

According to preliminary information, the driver who hit Rubinstein had been involved in 19 traffic violations in 12 months, the department said.

Human rights organisation Memorial didn’t mince its words.

“Today’s Russia leaves no room for free citizens and poets,” it wrote in a long homage to the writer. “It doesn’t see them on pedestrian crossings.”

When Putin launched his full-scale assault on Ukraine in 2022, Rubinstein had signed with other renowned writers an open letter denouncing a “criminal war” and the “lies” from the Kremlin.

– ‘Bitterly symbolic’ –

Born in Moscow in 1947, Rubinstein went on to create his own genre, between poetry and theatre, by writing short sentences on perforated cards and reading the “note-card poems” on stage.

His daily work as a librarian and the bureaucracy of the Soviet era inspired his performances, which combined absurd comedy and improvisation.

In its tribute, Memorial said Rubinstein had a perception of ordinary life which was “sharp, poetic, astute and ironic, he was himself a way of perceiving the world”.

After the USSR collapsed, Rubinstein shot to prominence and saw his work widely published by leading Russian publishing houses.

He was invited to international poetry festivals and his works were translated into many languages.

Rubinstein also worked as a journalist.

He was openly hostile to Putin’s government and regularly protested against the Kremlin’s intensifying repression and human rights violations.

He denounced the war in Chechnya, the 2014 annexation of Crimea and took part in opposition demonstrations, before taking aim at the invasion of Ukraine.

Rubinstein had not been arrested or prosecuted during the conflict in Ukraine, Memorial said, even as the Kremlin’s repression reached new heights.

“But his tragic death in January 2024, just on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the catastrophe seems bitterly symbolic,” Memorial continued.

“Our tense desperation and hope, the powerlessness and fear of the past days, the coma and muteness of Lev Rubinstein — this is us today,” it added.

Russian authorities have launched an investigation into the accident, the transport department said.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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