The computer memory about global events reminded that Leonid Brezhnev, who was head of the Soviet Communist party and all USSR, passed away on 10 November 1982.
We have weird memories about this period. Seriously ill patients usually die without plenty of witnesses. Leonid Brezhnev was an exception. The whole world could see him just a few days before his death: almost a non-moving figure of the leader of the USSR was standing over Lenin Mausoleum and was greeting Soviet people during an ordinary anniversary of October Uprising.
To people of my generation it seemed that Leonid Brezhnev has become almost everlasting – the one who cannot be cured and imperishable. Similar to that system he was representing – totally weak, demoralized, inflexible, however still pretending to be a super-state and threatening the whole world with the nuclear weapon.
Duplicity of the mentioned period has become an illustration from the textbook. The USSR at that time was an under-developed country, however it was threatening with its military and political crazy attempts, trying to subjugate Afghanistan but not daring to ”calm down” Poland, a country organizing Olympic Games and absolutely not able to create a better economic welfare to its people.
A son of economic emigrants from Russia, born and raised in Ukraine, who had a passport with an entry of his nationality as Ukrainian (people say); although in other documents he was described as Russian. He was a product of russification of Ukraine that was carried out since the tsar times. A Ukrainian had to be a geographic rather than ethnic origin…
In the opinion of non-Soviet biographers, he was a typical ambitious and deeply unimpressive person, who was good to everybody as the best compromise, not going anywhere where there is a risk; however the one who was picking the fruit of victory. His career was not heroic, however spectacular in the ‘party line’, not a heroic career at war, finally upheaval in 1964. An upheaval during which Leonid Brezhnev was picked as if as a temporary leader until the time when a better leader comes to the stage… He had 114 awards – medals and insignias – more than Stalin and Khrushchev put together.
Political observers and historians regarded political legacy of Leonid Brezhnev has been regarded negatively. Leonid Brezhnev was not such a firm hand as Stalin. He had no wisdom, he was not able to balance, but finally he had no friends. Stagnation is the word that describes the economic life best of all. The cult of neo-Stalinist personality appeared as an official admiration, since there was no reason to respect him. Post-mortem perpetuation of the memory of Leonid Brezhnev soon turned into attempts to erase him from the history. However, as we know, it is not easy to erase, because the history of the Soviet state has not been so long.
The ones, who feel sorry for the Soviet Union, do not feel sorry for Leonid Brezhnev. The current head of Russia Vladimir Putin, reminding that the end of the former state should be compared to a geopolitical catastrophe, has in mind the state under ruling of Stalin rather than Brezhnev.
However, we should not be confused. Ruling of Leonid Brezhnev is associated with several stereotypes, which make him a certain symbol of stability and political comfort. It seems that leaders of the Soviet state were just bad and worse, thus Leonid Brezhnev maybe was one of the better ones.
A survey carried out five years ago enables us to come up to a conclusion that the ones, who thought that the power of the Soviet state was ‘a firm hand spreading terror’, chose Stalin as their idol. The ones, who need possibilities of a calm job and minimal earnings (“just to live without a war’), choose Leonid Brezhnev. If we ask a question why, the answer would be clear – who was better –a risk-taker Volodia, eccentric Nikita, two post-Brezhnev old men, Mikhail who destroyed the state, a drunker Boris Jeltsin or…? Putin is not the one who was yet.
In Leonid Brezhnev times, there was no war… Wasn’t it really? There was suppression of the Prague Spring, there was Afghanistan that enabled many young men to find out that the war was not only what we see in the movies. There was militarization of the country with sky-high ambitions. The Brezhnev-like country was prepared not for the peace with the rest of the world. It was prepared for the war. The war finally did not happen probably not because Leonid Brezhnev did not want it, but probably because Americans did not let him fight or offered to fight in the way that Russians were not able to. There was also a big war – the Cold War – which Soviets finally lost. The economy did not cope with that and the wish faded. The reason for that might be because they were preparing for the hot war. Finally, the post-war period after the Cold War arrived, which is usually called post-communist transformation… This is again, the fault of the Leonid Brezhnev period. Thus, which of them actually destroyed the Soviet Union? Leonid Brezhnev devastated it; Mikhail Gorbachev just had to look at the end of the state. Attempts to recover this political carrion ended with what we have today.
Western political theorists characterized this period ambiguously and most often… erroneously. As George Friedman wrote, only an insane person could tell in 1980 during the Olympic Games that after a decade the country that organized the games would absolutely fall down. There was a Russian dissident Andrei Amalrik, who told that the USSR had no long time to survive, and would not live up to 1984, described by Orwell, however at that time most people did not even dare to quote him.
I, who was eagerly listening to various radio stations, was surprised with naivety of so-called Sovietologists. They used to study carefully five-year plans and numbers of the economic growth, it seems knowing nothing about ‘faked’ Soviet statistics. Sovietologists did not anticipate the most important issues, for which they actually existed. They did not anticipate collapse of the USSR, did not anticipate “solidarity” of Poland and political role of the John Paul II…
I’ve heard some rumours from one University professor, who was boasting of relations with KGB, who was telling that at the beginning of the ninth decade there was redundancy period in these structures, as if intelligence had nothing to do, since there was no more resistance. If this is the case, he was actually wrong…
Are Leonid Brezhnev times relevant nowadays to a certain extent?
The senior editor of the portal The Globalist Alexei Bayer in his recently published text said that there are a lot of parallels between two decades of Vladimir Putin and Leonid Brezhnev period that lasted for almost twenty years.
Both of them made amendments to the Constitution. Leonid Brezhnev did not need to remove the number of term of office, because the number actually did not exist. He had to form a ‘Soviet person’. However, amendments to the Constitution probably would not help here, since governments in Russia change not according to the Constitution.
Both were creating stagnation from slightly promising economy. None of them had courage to start modernization; they both were hoping to ‘drift’ somehow with inexhaustible natural resources and cheap labour force.
At the end of the eighth decade, the Soviet regime strengthened the fight against ‘independent thinkers’ (to tell the truth, all were independent thinkers, but these were brave). Now Vladimir Putin is doing the same. Yuri Andropov was a dispassionate boss of the KGB; Vladimir Putin is also cynical. Yuri Andropov actually did not dare to kill Aleksandr Solzhenycin or Andrei Sakharov. Vladimir Putin afforded himself to ‘take away” Boris Nemtsov, allowed ‘Novichok’ to appear and he allowed a lot more and we can presume will allow in the future.
During Leonid Brezhnev period repression of human rights was hidden and in the present Russia nobody is hiding anything. There is no reason for that, because everybody knows everything and nothing is done against Russia. Not because they do not know anything but because they do not want to take special measures. Just minor and mild targeted sanctions, pretending that ….
The Soviet Union was supporting terrorists, separatists and rioters in the West and was doing this in secret. Vladimir Putin’s Russia again is doing it straightforwardly. Even it regulates elections. Everybody knows about that, but…
But… Vladimir Putin is not so powerful. Afghanistan would be a too big project. What is going on now is not the great geopolitics. It is rather a geopolitical kleptomania… Leonid Brezhnev had Europe up to Berlin. Vladimir Putin is losing it. He has it maybe up to Minsk, however he might not have it already. He did not have courage to join one party in the southern Caucasus. Alexander Lukashenko probably would like that. Same as the Afghan Babrak Karmal, who asked for a friendly ‘assistance’, however military and political health of Vladimir Putin is not so strong any longer. Russia is becoming rather a signboard than a content.
The Soviet Union was destroyed not by the West and even not by the economic troubles. It was destroyed by total demoralization, which now is posing a threat to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Can an internal turmoil in the USA save Vladimir Putin? Maybe Leonid Brezhnev was hoping that a troublesome situation in the USA in the eighth decade would help him. However, it did not help. Now reputation of the USA has decreased also… We will see.