Obituary: Lev Kopelev

While the latter years of the Soviet regime saw countless cases of former hardline Communists who reconstructed themselves as would-be former liberals, if not outright dissidents, Lev Kopelev belonged to the group whose dissident credentials could never be in doubt.

Born in Kiev in 1912, he was a fanatical Communist in his youth and an ardent participant in the collectivisation campaign of the late 1920s and early 1930s, when thousands of young Bolshevik activists roamed the villages to persuade, cajole and, if all else failed, with military force terrorise the peasants into pooling their resources in collective farms.

He graduated from the Moscow Foreign Languages Institute as a specialist in German and during the Second World War served as a propaganda officer among German prisoners. Like many other intellectuals who erroneously believed that the end of the war signalled a relaxation of the regime's mind control, he uttered critical remarks about the barbarism of the Red Army in occupied Germany, and was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in the camps. In a KGB camp-within-a-camp reserved for scientists - a sharashka - he met another future pillar of the Soviet dissident movement, Alexander Solzhenitsyn; later he served as the model for the character of Rubin in Solzhenitsyn's 1969 novel The First Circle.

Kopelev was released in 1956 and as a labour of love took on the task of getting Solzhenitsyn's work published. In 1962 he showed the manuscript of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich to Alexander Tvardovsky, editor- in-chief of the magazine Novy Mir and harbinger of change in cultural, if not general, policy during the 1960s. It was at this time that Khrushchev was feeling the pressure mounting from the reactionary Stalinist elements in the leadership and One Day served the purpose of reinforcing the policy of de-Stalinisation that he had launched in his famous "secret speech" of February 1956. If anything, its publication probably had the opposite effect: while in the West this event was interpreted as a sign of liberalisation, inside the Soviet Union it only added to the already long list of "errors" that would be used against Khrushchev when he was ousted in October 1964 and the Brezhnev era of retrenchment was ushered in.

Kopelev, with his patriarchal white beard and rabbinical appearance, seems not to have taken an active interest in the movement for Jewish emigration which would snowball after 1970, but in 1965 he signed a protest against the arrest and trial of the samizdat writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, and was thereafter a prominent activist in the human rights movement, associated with such luminaries as Andrei Sakharov, Pavel Litvinov, Alexander Ginzburg and General Peter Grigorenko, as well as Solzhenitsyn himself.

Expelled from the Party in 1968 for an article, published in the West, (belatedly) warning of a resurgence of Stalinism, and for letters in support of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, Kopelev began publishing articles and books, again in the West, on the horrors of collectivisation and the Gulag. In particular, his work on the camps, To Be Preserved Forever ("Vechno khranit", the stamp on every political prisoner's dossier), aroused considerable interest when it was published in the West in 1976. In 1977 he was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers, which meant he could no longer publish inside the Soviet Union, and was thus also cut off from all legal means of employment and sources of income.

In November 1980 he and his wife, Raisa Orlova, a literary critic, were permitted to leave the Soviet Union, ostensibly so that he could continue scientific research in West Germany but, since they were both stripped of their Soviet citizenship in 1981, they had effectively been deported from their native land.

Lev Zinovievich Kopelev, writer: born Kiev 1912; married Raisa Orlova (died 1989); died Cologne 18 June 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate