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Brezhnev Remembered Fondly 100 Years Since Birth

Published: December 19, 2006 (Issue # 1231)


Many remember Leonid Brezhnev as a mumbling dotard with dark bushy eyebrows and a cuirass of medals pinned on his broad chest.

But more Russians today would rather live under Brezhnev, who would have turned 100 on Tuesday, than any other Soviet or post-Soviet leader, with the exception of President Vladimir Putin.

“Brezhnev himself lived well, and he allowed others to live,” said Marina Pukhalskaya, a Moscow pensioner who received free higher education, a relatively prestigious job as a civil engineer and, eventually, a free apartment during an 18-year rule that some quipped would never end.

People who knew Brezhnev or studied his leadership describe him as an apt bureaucrat but poor economist who had little regard for civil liberties or human rights. Acquaintances recalled astonishing displays of fairness and generosity, such as the time Brezhnev stood up for a sleepy conscript who accidentally hit the French president’s plane with a snowplow.

The protagonist of a zillion anecdotes, Dear Leonid Ilyich, as Brezhnev was known, is still remembered for the unprecedented stability that allowed ordinary people to plan out their lives. He also raised the Soviet Union to new levels of power and prestige.

“For 18 years, the country lived in clover,” said Andrei Brezhnev, the grandson of Leonid Brezhnev. He was 21 when the Soviet leader died of a heart attack in 1982.

“Granddad was very intelligent. Otherwise, he would not have been allowed by others to run the country for so long,” he said.

A nationwide survey last year indicated that 31 percent of Russians would prefer to live during the Brezhnev era, while 39 percent picked Putin’s time. Only 1 percent of the 3,200 people polled by the state-run VTsIOM longed for Boris Yeltsin’s 1990s.

Critics of the Brezhnev era — and there are many — focus on the prolonged stagnation of the 1970s, when authorities ignored fundamental economic problems and allowed the political system to decline. But even they agree that Russia is managing to live well by exploiting the biggest legacy of the Brezhnev era — the vast infrastructure that connects the gas-rich bowels of Siberia to the ovens of residents in Munich, Germany.

“Developing those oil and gas fields was the most serious achievement of the Brezhnev era,” former Acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar said. “And although it was never discussed openly at that time, the country had set its hopes on oil and gas exports.”

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the club’s website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit “Neophobia” at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBA’s Marketing and Communications Committee’s round table discussion on “Government Relations Practices in Russia” this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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