OBITUARY:Vladimir Maximov

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Vladimir Maximov was the editor of the political literary magazine Kontinent and an internationally known Soviet dissident in exile during the 1970s and 1980s.

He was born Lev Samsonov, the son of a worker, in Moscow in 1930, at the peak of the Stalinist collectivisation campaign. When he was three years old his father was arrested. Lev attended a local school but lived the life of a street urchin. At the age of 15, in 1945, he was caught as one of a gang of pickpockets, and sent to a corrective colony for minors where he spent five hard years. Released, he finished school and did various manual jobs at kolkhozes - state agricultural farms - all over the Soviet Union. In 1952, while working at Kuban, northern Caucasus, he met a young local Komsomol official, Mikhail Gorbachev, the future leader of perestroika and glasnost.

He started writing poetry under the name of Vladimir Maximov and was published by local newspapers on the look-out for working-class poets and writers. In 1956, during the so-called Khrushchev thaw, he published his first collection of poetry, Pokolenie Na Chasakh ("A Generation on Duty"). In 1961, by which time he had moved to Moscow, Maximov became a friend of the writer Konstantin Paustovsky, who included Maximov's first short story, "My Obzhivaem Zemlyu" ("We Work on Land") in a literary almanac, Tarusskie Stranitsy ("Tarusa pages"). The almanac - named after a pictur- esque town on the Oka river, in the Kaluga district, where the celebrated pianist Svjatoslav Richter and other artists and writers chose to live - was important because it was produced by a literary group, led by Paustovsky, in opposition to the dull representatives of the official line. Maximov attracted attention at this time, but became more widely known in 1962 after the publication of his second short story, "Zhiv Chelovek" ("A Man is Alive"), which appeared in the literary magazine Oktober. The story was staged in 1965 at a Moscow theatre.

By the mid-Sixties, Maximov was a senior member of the board of the USSR Union of Writers, and was published principally in Oktober. He published a play and several short stories there between 1964 and 1967. From October 1967 to August 1968 Maximov was a senior editor of the magazine. But Oktober was an orthodox Communist magazine with a poor reputation among the outspoken liberal intelligentsia, and after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 Maximov resigned.

Maximov's first important novel, Sem' Dnei Tvorenia ("Seven Days of Creation"), was finished in 1971 but could not be published in the Soviet Union because of its religious overtones and critical view of Communist society. It was published in West Germany in Russian and soon thereafter in many European countries, and made Maximov internationally known as a writer and dissident. His second novel, Karantin ("Quarantine", 1973), appeared first as a samizdat publication, and established him as a leading writer. He was at this time dismissed from the Union of Writers, in June 1973.

As a dissident, Maximov was twice forcibly admitted to psychiatric hospitals by the KGB. His case attracted international attention and in February 1974 Maximov was forced into political exile and stripped of his Soviet citizenship by Leonid Brezhnev's literary authorities, creating an international scandal.

Maximov lived in Paris from then until his death, and became the publisher and editor-in-chief of Kontinent, the most important of all dissident magazines in Russian, which at one time was financed by Axel Springer, the West German press baron. In the pages of Kontinent, Maximov published many banned Soviet and East European writers, poets and playwrights. He also introduced interesting artists such as the political cartoonist Vyachslav Syssoyev, who had been a fellow "patient" in psychiatric hospitals. Between 1974 and 1982 Maximov produced a series of novels under one title, Proschanie Iz Nietkuda ("Goodbye from Nowhere"), which appeared first in Russian in Germany and Paris, and later in several European languages, including English. Posev, a political anti-Communist publisher based in Frankfurt-am-Main published Maximov's six-volume Complete Works in Russian, and these were recently republished in Moscow by Terra. Posev published Maximov's Saga O Savva ("Tale about Savva") in 1975, Kovcheg Dlya Nezvannykh ("Ark for the Uninvited") in 1979 and the polemical Saga O Nosorogakh ("Tale about Rhinoceroses"), inspired by Eugne Ionesco, in 1982.

In Paris Maximov was generally considered to be the most prominent figure in the so-called "third wave" of emigration from the Soviet Union. He was widely known and respected for his human rights campaigns and feared for his acrimonious polemics against left-wing Western intellectuals. In the 1990s, when interest in dissidents waned after the introduction of perestroika, Maximov transferred his Kontinent to Moscow, where it continues to appear, with a different editor.

In the era of glasnost and perestroika under Gorbachev, Maximov visited the Soviet Union regularly. His Soviet citizenship was restored in June 1990, by Gorbachev's special decree. He appeared in many newspapers and on television. Ironically enough the former dissident number one had lately started to contribute to Pravda, which, remaining staunchly Communist, has become something of a voice of dissent itself in present-day Russia. Their common ground was a resolute anti-Yeltsin approach.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Lev Alexandrovich Samsonov (Vladimir Yemelyanovich Maximov), writer, editor, dissident: born Moscow 27 November 1930; died Paris 26 March 1995.

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