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Obituary: Ales damovich

Alexander (Ales) Mikhailovich Adamovich, writer and politician: born Koniukhi, Minsk Oblast 1927; married; died 26 January 1994.

BETWEEN 1987 and 1989 the Belarussian writer Ales Adamovich was in the news in the Russian media nearly every day, and became a celebrity and a public figure. It was he who broke silence on the scale of the Chernobyl disaster. In those days when it was still difficult to criticise the Soviet government, he managed to find honest television reporters and bring them to the Chernobyl region and show the camera children born without arms and legs. Moscow News used to organise monthly discussions of the government-cover up chaired by Adamovich. Around 1987 President Mikhail Gorbachev was asking, who was this man who dared speak up so loudly about Chernobyl?

He was born Alexander Adamovich in 1927 at the village of Koniukhi in Minsk Oblast. Both his parents were doctors. At the age of 15 he joined them to fight the Germans as a partisan in occupied territory. After the war he graduated from a medical institute, and from the philology faculty of Belarussian State University in Minsk. This was 1953, the year when he published his first article about Belarussian prose.

He continued his studies and eventually took his PhD, and then entered the Higher Courses for Scriptwriters and Film Directors attached to Mosfilm Studio in Moscow. He was made a corresponding member at the Belarussian Academy of Sciences, and in the early Sixties accepted a teaching post at Moscow State University.

In September 1965 the KGB arrested two writers, Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who, under the pseudonyms 'Abram Terz' and 'Nikolai Arzhak', had published books critical of Soviet Communism. In February the following year they were convicted after a sensational and well-documented trial. The Moscow University authorities composed a letter in which they welcomed the trial and punishment and suggested that lecturers should sign it. Many did, but Adamovich refused and was fired.

His life returned to normal only when Gorbachev took over in March 1985. In 1987 he became Director of the All-Union Research Institute of Cinema in Moscow, deputy chairman of the USSR Commission at Unesco and co-chairman of the Memorial Public Council. This organisation, although intended to be concerned with historical information, was in practice a strong political opposition group, and Adamovich was one of its leaders. It is this group which exposed the scale of the Chernobyl disaster and the Gorbachev government's attempt to belittle it.

In 1989 Adamovich was elected a member of the Soviet parliament and he was often seen on Russian television in debates. He was much disliked by Communist hardliners.

In 1991-92 he was acting co-chairman of the Secretariat of the Union of Soviet Writers. But his main literary period was between 1965 and 1985, under Leonid Brezhnev, when there was strict censorship. Although he was a member of the Soviet Writers Union he could not tell the whole truth about the horrors of the partisan war in Belarussia during the Second World War and could not say a word about NKVD-led punitive squads in his war books - the two-volume Partisans (1960-63), his novella Victory (1965) and The Khatyn Story (1974). But for his war stories he was awarded a literary prize by the Russian Ministry of Defence. He also won a Belarussian State Prize.

Adamovich wrote several informative books for philology students with titles such as Problems in the Genre of the Novel, The Path to Mastery and A Belarussian Novel in Verse.

In 1988 he created a sensation with an article in Ogonek weekly about NKVD mass murders at the Belarussian village of Kuropaty. A decent and honest man, popular with his colleagues at the Cinema Institute in Moscow, for his last six years he was at the centre of Moscow's political and cultural life.