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Acclaimed and hounded, Belarus writer Bykov dies
By Andrei Makhovsky
MINSK, June 23 (Reuters) - Belarus's best loved writer Vasil Bykov, whose work irritated communist rulers and post-Soviet authorities, has died aged 79, his doctor said on Monday.
A major figure in Soviet literature, Bykov won acclaim for his novels about ordinary soldiers in World War Two. Many of his works, which include "The Third Flare," "Alpine Ballad" and "The Dead Have No Pain," were turned into films.
Bykov died in a hospital near Minsk on Sunday after a long battle with cancer, his doctor Marina Belotserkovskaya said.
Bykov left the former Soviet republic in 1998 and spent his final years abroad because his defence of the Belarussian national identity and its increasingly rare language put him on a collision course with President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko, elected in 1994, has cracked down on Belarus's nationalist opposition and independent media, restored Soviet-era symbols and pressed for a new merger with Russia.
In the mid 1990s, Belarussian authorities launched a media campaign against Bykov, criticising him for opposing any merger with Russia and denouncing him as a traitor. Some of Bykov's works were banned in Belarus.
On Monday Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lukashenko as paying tribute to Bykov, who lived in Finland, Germany and the Czech Republic before returning to Belarus this month after undergoing surgery.
"We understood sovereignty and independence differently, but one cannot but respect this man's passionate struggle for Belarus's freedom and independence," Tass quoted Lukashenko as saying. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences.
Bykov had also fallen foul of communist authorities before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, with three works banned from publication in the 1970s for depicting the horrors of war instead of model Soviet heroism.
Within a decade they were required classics on school curricula.
"He was one of the most honest authors, describing the dreadful, brutal truth about our war," literary critic Benedikt Sarnov told Russia's NTV television.
"He was also one of the few to understand not only the nature of war but the workings of the Soviet system. He revealed this with considerable strength and accuracy."
Bykov's memoirs, "The Long Road Home," were published this year.