Following a career that spanned more than half a century -- from the depths of the Cold War to his final commentary posted on the Radio Svoboda website on June 12 -- longtime RFE/RL Russian Service journalist Semyon Mirsky passed away on June 30, 2020 at his home in France. Mirsky was 81 years old.
Born on January 28, 1939 in the Polish (now Belarusian) city of Stolbtsy, Mirsky spent World War II as an evacuee in what was then Soviet Kazakhstan. Following the war, he returned to Stolbtsy before moving to Vilnius and ultimately being allowed to repatriate to Poland in 1957. From Poland, Mirsky moved on to Israel, where he graduated from the philosophy faculty of the University of Jerusalem.
Mirsky joined Radio Liberty (RL) and its Russian Service as an editor in Munich in September 1964, transferring to the RL bureau in London in 1967 and then spending two years as an RL correspondent in Israel. In 1972, he began post-graduate work at the University of Munich’s history and philology faculty, where he defended a thesis on the works of Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov. From 1977 to 1992, Mirsky served as chief editor of RL’s Paris Bureau, where his expertise in contemporary Russian literature made him a sought-after consultant to major French publishing houses.
In the early 1990s, Mirsky worked at RFE/RL’s headquarters in Munich before becoming a freelance correspondent for the Russian Service in France in 1995 -- a status he maintained with distinction until his passing.
Mirsky was fondly remembered by many RFE/RL colleagues, such as former Radio Liberty Director Enders Wimbush, who writes that “[Mirsky’s] programs were among the most often cited by our listeners for their sophistication and nuance. He certainly ranks near the top of RL greats from that service who had real impact.” Former RFE/RL Russian Service Associate Director Mark Pomar called Mirsky “a remarkable person -- kind, erudite, charming, and fun to be with.” And former RFE/RL Soviet Area Audience and Opinion Research Deputy Director Charles Allen recalled that “During [Mirsky’s] tenure as chief editor the Paris bureau consistently produced high quality programming...To me he will always personify the best attributes of a dedicated journalist and accessible human being.”
On learning of Mirsky’s passing, Russian novelist Lyudmila Ulitskaya wrote, “I owe him a lot. He was the person who defined my very successful writing biography. And I'm not alone. My first book was published in France at a time when my books were not yet published in Russia, and this is thanks to Semyon, who dug up the manuscript of an unknown author from the literary stream that he read constantly. I owe him that my name did not get lost in this stream.”
RFE/RL expresses its sincere condolences to the family of Semyon Mirsky on the passing of this Russian Service legend.