Alexander Bovin: obituary

Last time I met Alexander Bovin, a famous journalist, diplomat and politician, was a year ago in Israel, while I was working as a RIA Novosti correspondent. Alexander Bovin liked to visit the country where he served as an ambassador of the Soviet Union and then as a Russian ambassador. He went there every year, and in the past several years visited the book fair that the Israelis regularly organised at the central bus station in Tel Aviv. There, Mr. Bovin signed his two incredibly popular books among Russian-born Israelis - "Notes of an Unreal Ambassador," and 'Five Years Among Jews and Foreign Ministry Officials.' He always eagerly talked to people.

When we last met, Alexander Bovin was staying in Netanya, a seaside city about 30 km north of Tel Aviv. He asked me to take him to a brief meeting and then back to his hotel.

I took him there, which seemed to be the most memorable area for him. There, right next to the Russian embassy in Israel, was a cafe where he liked to spend his lunchtime sitting at an outdoor table talking to visitors.

Actually, Alexander Bovin never suffered from the lack of contacts with Israelis, above all, with those who came from the former Soviet Union. Unbelievably, his former compatriots, who were already Israeli citizens, often wrote to Ambassador Alexander Bovin asking him to help them solve different everyday problems. In most cases, Mr. Bovin failed to help them, although he tried hard and always responded their letters.

This time, we did not go to the cafe. Alexander Bovin had a short business meeting at a nearby institution and immediately asked me to take him back to Netanya, where he had a few other meetings.

"Well, see you in Moscow," he said to me. "You are going back, aren't you?" We never met again. But I will always remember this cheerful man sitting in the front seat, singing one of Mikhail Shifutinsky's songs, which was on the car stereo.

"Play it again, this is my favourite," he asked.

In other words, he was just like any other average person, despite his background as a successful politician and an official. He was chief of a consultant group set up by Yuri Andropov in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a political observer of the Izvestia newspaper, a popular host of the "International Panorama" television programme and finally an ambassador at large.

I remember our joint journalist trip to Holland, six years ago. He was undoubtedly a senior member of our group and the most active. He wanted to know everything. Only now do I understand how difficult it was for him to walk upstairs in the cargo terminal of Amsterdam airport where we went during our trip. Shortly before that, Mr. Bovin had surgery on his patellae. Nobody knew then what an enormous effort it was for him.

Incidentally, he never complained about being tired and was always amiable to people and certainly never looked detached, but on the contrary, seemed to be a very easy person to deal with. In the 1970s, for example, he liked to have a beer in Moscow's House of Journalists, where journalists who were not quite politically loyal to the Soviet power used to gather. He had long conversations with them there in the basement and did not seem to fear the consequences. Many thought it was strange, but Mr. Bovin was like that. In Soviet times, when ideology was strictly observed, he was punished more than once. But he would soon return to a some important post again. He was a very smart and gifted person who could write a speech for a high official overnight. Others could not do that, so Mr. Bovin was invited to do the job and forgiven.

Alexander Bovin never looked like some sort of a monument, unlike other ambitious officials. He was easy to talk to and widely respected. This is why his sudden death in late April arouses earnest sympathy among the numerous people who knew him personally and many others.

Andrei Pravov, RIAN

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