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.”Pages:  [2 ]