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Tengiz Gudava, A 'Fighter To The End'

Tengiz Gudava had millions of listeners in Russia and the Soviet Union
Tengiz Gudava had millions of listeners in Russia and the Soviet Union
Tengiz Gudava, a former RFE/RL correspondent and a highly respected Central Asia and Caucasus analyst, died this week in Prague at the age of 55.

While the circumstances of his death are unclear, his legacy as a journalist, writer, and dissident is not.

Born to a Georgian father and a Russian mother in Samtredia, in Soviet Georgia, Gudava understood life in the ethnic provinces of the USSR better than most.

Some of the best work of his professional career was done during his years at RFE/RL, when, working for the Georgian and Russian services, he produced incisive and compelling programming about the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as China's Xinjiang region and Afghanistan.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, millions of listeners in the region were devoted to his programs, delivered in a deceptively mild, but always confident, voice.

Labor Camp

Gudava loved and appreciated life. A noted Soviet dissident and activist, he survived five years in a Soviet labor camp before being expelled from the country, together with his brother, Eduard, in 1987.

"Only those who have spent at least one day in jail understand and appreciate liberty," he was often heard to say. "And I have chosen liberty."

He remained a fighter to the end. After his controversial departure from RFE/RL in 2004, Gudava continued to write about Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia on a personal website. (He also published sharp criticism of RFE/RL.)

The Russia-Georgia war in South Ossetia was a deeply emotional issue for him, and he was a harsh critic of the leadership in Russia.

Not everyone liked his rebellious and dissident nature. But no one can deny that his work had a tremendous impact on his audience. He was an astute observer of political and economic developments in the countries and regions he covered.

But he was also a passionate and sensitive defender of the rights of ordinary people, from a shepherd in a remote Afghan village to jailed oppositionists in Central Asia.

On the night of April 15, Gudava left his Prague apartment to buy cigarettes. He never returned. Two days later, his body was discovered in a morgue some distance from his home. Police say he was hit by a car, but have so far offered few details about the circumstances of his death.

He is survived by a wife, Olga, and two sons and a daughter.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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