Brezhnev ‘Died’ in 1976 Stroke, Ruled Six Years in Daze
"He gradually...could no longer understand what was going on around him"
Originally ran in 1988.
Kremlin leader Leonid I. Brezhnev suffered clinical death in January, 1976, but was revived and ruled in a virtual daze for six more years, a Soviet historian said today.
The historian, Roy Medvedev, said Brezhnev was largely kept in power by corrupt officials in his entourage who knew they were safe while he remained as president and Communist Party general secretary.
After Brezhnev’s 1976 stroke, Medvedev said in an article in the weekly Moscow News, “he gradually found it more and more difficult to carry out the most simple protocol functions and could no longer understand what was going on around him.”
Brezhnev, who became party leader in 1964 after the removal of Nikita S. Khrushchev, died in November, 1982. The period of his rule is now officially condemned as one of social and economic stagnation.
His son-in-law, former First Deputy Interior Minister Yury Churbanov, went on trial in Moscow this week accused of involvement in a huge corruption scandal, and other officials who flourished under him have also been dismissed or arrested.
Medvedev, who was expelled from the party under Brezhnev but has now emerged as a leading reformist historian, said, “Many people in his entourage who were influential but totally wallowing in corruption needed Brezhnev to appear from time to time in public as at least a formal head of state. They literally led him around by the hand. . . .
Medvedev said Brezhnev had managed to put in senior positions many people from the group he gathered around him when he worked in the Ukraine and Moldavia between the 1930s and 1950s.
Although many are now dead or removed, the historian added, “the Brezhnev ‘team’ still exists and that is clearly not the best component of the heritage its late leader left the party.”
Originally ran in 1988.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday elements of the Brezhnev era still haunt Soviet society, but he declined to confirm a report the former leader was declared clinically dead and revived in 1976 to rule the country six more years.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Vadim Perfilyev was reacting to a scathing article in the weekly Moscow News about the reign of Leonid Brezhnev. It said after his recovery from an apparent stroke, Brezhnev continued to rule, but had little idea of what was happening around him.
Perfilyev said the article appeared to treat the era truthfully and said the remnants of corruption left behind still needed to be purged.
But he refused to comment on the accuracy of the claims that Brezhnev was a virtual ‘living corpse’ in his final years.
‘It is not the duty of the Foreign Ministry to comment on history. The author is knowledgeable and has more knowledge that I on this,’ he said.
The weekly Moscow News carried an article by historian Roy Medvedev which said Brezhnev, who died in November 1982 after 18 years in power, found it difficult to understand what was going on around him in the years following a 1976 suspected stroke that nearly killed him and badly impaired his brain.
The story, published Wednesday, also contained a bitter attack on the corruption of the Brezhnev years — now unofficially termed by the Kremlin ‘the period of stagnation.’
The article confirmed accepted Western beliefs that Brezhnev was no more than ‘a living corpse’ in his final years when he was plagued by heart, lung and throat problems.
It also was one of the most frank accounts ever published inside the Soviet Union about how ill Brezhnev actually was during his reign over one of the most powerful countries in the world.
Moscow News said the feeble Brezhnev did manage to attend a summit meeting with President Carter despite an obvious speech handicap and a failing memory.
It said Brezhnev, born in 1906, had serious health problems as early as 1969, only five years after he took office in 1964 at the age of 58. It said he was never very intelligent and his speech writers had to avoid ‘long words’ because he could not pronounce them.
‘His first health problems appeared around 1969-1970. At the begining of 1976, Brezhnev was pronounced clinically dead by doctors. However, they managed to return him to life. But for three months he could not work. His speech and his thought process became disturbed.
‘Every place he lived was equipped with special medical equipment. Since then, a special group of doctors always accompanied him,’ Moscow News said.
‘He stopped understanding what was going on around him. Little by little, it was impossible for him to do simple tasks. He just stopped understanding what was going on,’ the story said.
‘It goes without saying that his sick condition was reflected in his ability to rule the country,’ it said.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has sanctioned an anti-Brezhnev campaign aimed at tarnishing the memory of the dead leader. Gorbachev has said that many opponents of his proposed reforms owe their positions to Brezhnev and corruption.
Using his policy of glasnost, or openness, and the mass media, Gorbachev has managed to get his message across effectively by portraying the Brezhnev years as corrupt and the dead leader himself as incompetent.
Apparently as part of the campaign, Brezhnev’s son-in-law and former deputy Interior Minister in charge of police, Yuri Churbanov, is currently on trial in Moscow with eight other Brezhnev-era officials on charges of taking and giving millions of dollars in bribes.