Vladimir Putin and Russia‘s liberal opposition who accuse him of growing authoritarianism have came together to mourn the death of Boris Strugatsky, a science fiction author famous for novels critical of the totalitarian Soviet system.
Strugatsky died in St Petersburg on Monday, aged 79, his foundation said. Media reports said he had been hospitalised with an illness.
Strugatsky, along with his brother Arkady, who died in 1991, wrote many novels and short stories critical of Soviet authoritarianism. When they began writing in the 1950s they were able to evade censors by placing subtle criticism in the context of distant planets and universes. That changed as time went on and they faced state censorship.
Among their most celebrated works are Roadside Picnic – the basis for director Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker – and Hard to be a God – the story of a man who visits another planet and grows horrified with its government’s cruel methods of stifling human development and freedom.
Boris Strugatsky had been critical of Putin and the authoritarian system he has built since coming to power in 2000. In his last interview, given in September 2011, he accused Putin of attempting to return Russia to the turn of the 20th century.
Asked what he did not like about modern Russia, Strugatsky answered: “That nationalisation is continuing everywhere. That the press is completely under the control of the authorities. That bureaucratic power is always getting stronger.”
Strugatsky signed open letters compiled by Russian intellectuals urging Putin to release the jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the punk band Pussy Riot.
Nonetheless, Putin issued his condolences, calling Strugatsky “one of the brightest, most talented and popular writers of the time.
“The books that he wrote in creative collaboration with Arkady Strugatsky are an entire epoch in the history of Russian literature, in the history of our country. Even today, they are at the highest levels of modernity.”
Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister, wrote on Twitter that Strugatsky was “a great writer and thinker. An irreplaceable loss to Russian and world literature.”
The Strugatskys’ writings received a fresh wind of popularity in Russia earlier this year, as the growing opposition to Putin drew parallels between the dark worlds the authors depicted and modern Russia.
Dmitry Bykov, a popular poet, critic and opposition activist, wrote: “He was an absolute, pure genius. With his departure, everything has become darker and more airless.”
“Successive generations of Russian intellectuals were raised on the Strugatskys,” said Muireann Maguire, a fellow at Oxford University. “Their books can be read with a certain pair of spectacles on as political commentaries on Soviet society or indeed any repressive society.”