Russian dissident poet Rubinstein dead at 76

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

Rubinstein is considered 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 poet had created 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.

“Shakily poetic, astute and ironic, he was himself a way of perceiving the world,” human rights organization Memorial said in a long homage to the writer.

After the USSR collapsed, he shot to prominence and saw his work widely published.

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

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

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.  

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

The Department of Transport of Moscow 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.

Authorities have launched an investigation into the accident, it added.