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Many people recall stagnation era with nostalgia 30 years after Brezhnev’s death

November 09, 2012, 18:09 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 9 (Itar-Tass) —— Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union for 18 years from 1964 to 1982, died 30 years ago, on November 10, 1982. In the Russian history, including in the twentieth century, the country saw many tyrants and bloody dictators and recalls about the last “classical-style” leader of the Soviet times condescendingly, but mainly in the kind way and with nostalgia. The analysts are seeking to draw lessons from the past, many people, whose young years fell on the times of stagnation, sincerely regret about the times, when all people had a more or less good social security level and “the confidence in tomorrow.” But this epoch is going down in a more and more remote past, and present-day school students know much better pop singer Vera Brezhneva than the omnipotent Soviet leader in the meantime.

Among the achievements of Brezhnev’s era, people recall most frequently foreign political successes, the nuclear detente policy, which the Soviet leadership pursued consistently. By the early seventies in the previous century the Soviet Union and the United States reached a military parity and concluded several important treaties to curb on the arms race. The decisions taken in those years mainly determine modern geopolitical realities up to now.

Among obvious advantages of the stagnation period are the achievements in the outer space exploration, several vital and highly technological spheres: aviation, shipbuilding, metalworking, energy and etc. The roads were being built rapidly, the housing and public utilities sector was developing quickly, the crime was being combated toughly.

For the years of Brezhnev’s rule 1.6 billion square metres of housing was built. Some 161 million people have received new housing for those years.

Among the faults not put in question by the public opinion during Brezhnev’s rule are the bringing of the troops of five countries of the Warsaw Pact in Czechoslovakia in August 1968 for the suppression of the Prague Spring led by Alexander Dubcek (a Slovak politician and, briefly, leader of Czechoslovakia (1968–1969), famous for his abortive attempt to reform the Communist regime during the Prague Spring) and the introduction of the Soviet Troops in Afghanistan in December 1979. The manhunt of the dissidents that cannot be compared with the atrocities of the Stalinist times at all, however, created a heavy ideological and moral climate in the society. The persecution of the dissidents, the exile of Andrei Sakharov (a Soviet nuclear physicist, who developed the first megaton-range Soviet hydrogen bomb, a dissident and human rights activist) became the same landmarks of Brezhnev’s era, as a shock-work Komsomol construction of BAM (the Baikal-Amur Mainline) that was launched in 1974 and is not finalized yet.

Socialism is inevitably losing its historical competition to Capitalism in the economic sphere – the inefficient production led to the total deficit. But now the Russians remember with nostalgia the times, when they received special ‘food rations’ at the workplace for the holidays. These food rations included raw smoked sausages, which could not be bought at the shops in the daily life. But nobody really imagines coming back to those times, when people were standing in line for difficult-to-obtain products for many hours, the commuter trains, on which residents from remote regions were travelling to Moscow, where it was easier to buy sausage and the compulsory dispatching of students and intelligentsia for potato harvesting or at vegetable storages.

The gerontocracy among the top Communist party functionaries should also be added to the foresaid facts. People were selected in the ruling elite in Brezhnev’s era more and more frequently according to the principle of personal loyalty to their chief executives.

“Brezhnev’s epoch was contradictory,” Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and head of the Centre of Civilization Studies Timur Timofeyev told Itar-Tass. On the one hand, this epoch was characteristic for its stability, far from all times observed in Russia. Brezhnev’s personal qualities, a well-balanced attitude to people that was particularly valuable as compared with the Stalinist times. Special successes were made in the foreign policy. Meanwhile, undisputable successes were achieved under Brezhnev in those spheres, which are typical for a socially oriented country. The expenditures on education and science were high.

Timofeyev named “a non-dynamic employment policy, the stagnation in the staff and the lack of changes in the elites” as doubtless negative phenomena of Brezhnev’s rule. The rotation of personnel is needed that is one of the main lessons, which should be drawn from Brezhnev’s epoch, he believes.

The collapse of the Socialistic state system was not associated with the personality of Brezhnev and with concrete chief executives in general, a well-known historian and an author of the school history textbooks, Alexander Danilov believes. “The personality of the Soviet leader could just promote, accelerate and strengthen the processes, or, on the contrary, minimize and weaken them. The result would be all the same, because it was a problem related with the rivalry of two state systems.”

The sociological surveys showed that Brezhnev’s epoch and the personality of Leonid Brezhnev mainly evoke good recollections in the overwhelming majority of Russians of the elder generation and among middle-aged people, though many people do not want a comeback to this epoch.

Some 61% of respondents polled by the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) in 2006, when Brezhnev’s 100th birth anniversary was marked, called the years of his rule as good times for the country and only 17% - bad times. Some 50% of Russians believe that Brezhnev played a positive role in the history of the country, 16% - a negative role.

Meanwhile, only 36% of respondents wanted “to return in the country in that historical period, when Brezhnev ruled it, with all typical features and peculiarities of the life in those years,” 42% opposed such comeback in the past.

The VCIOM sociological survey, which was conducted five years later, in 2011, showed that most respondents (a total of 45%) have positive associations about the term “Brezhnev’s era”: “It was a good time, a good calm life, stability, confidence in tomorrow, the belief in the fair future, affordable and gratis services, good prices, there were some food products in the shops, there was no unemployment, a stable salary, peace and friendship between the peoples.” A total of 25% pollsters have negative associations: “stagnation, deficit, long queues, speculation, food coupons, a hard life, bans, censorship and the Iron Curtain.”

35% of respondents could not answer the question, as Brezhnev’s epoch says nothing to them.

According to the recent public opinion poll conducted by the Levada Centre, 45% of young people in the age brackets between 16-18 years stayed undecided about their evaluation of Brezhnev’s era. 44% of school students are unaware about the manhunt of the dissidents in Brezhnev’s epoch, 54% of respondents do not have the slightest idea about the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia in 1968.