Friday, December 02, 2005

Konstantin Chernenko: Paper Pusher

Picture: Chernenko: General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) from 1984-85.
Quote: "Every Communist Party member a propagandist"

Well, yes, paper pushing is basically what he did - signing papers as Brezhnev's assistant most of his life (alongside propagandizing and monitoring wiretaps). He would have succeeded Brezhnev except for losing to Andropov, a favorite of the Red Army and KGB. Nevertheless, his moment in the sun came after Andropov's death- and I can't say he made the most of it.

Like Brezhnev, he was a compromise candidate between reformers and hard-liners (partially rehabilitating Stalin & increasing KGB repression yet being more sensitive to public opinion and the need for more consumer goods). An interesting essay about him and his succession from the Moscow News.

He best represented the Soviet gerontocracy at the time, terminally ill (with lung disease) amidst power-hungry potential successors. I'll never forget this moment on the tv news (a month before he died):

(Soviet television) showed (an) obviously half-dead Chernenko on TV
voting on election day in a room next to his hospital ward made to look like a
polling station. Which caused a general moan of loathing. Then, after the
"elections," Grishin (a politburo member) put on an even more gruesome ceremony, a real danse macabre, handing a ghastly-looking Chernenko his credentials - and the man, who could barely stand upright or articulate sounds, with his terminal emphysema of the lungs, had to rasp out a few sentences by way of an acceptance speech. That episode, which shocked even the least interested, not to mention the politicos, took place on February 28. And on March 10, Chernenko died.

(Read more...)

Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko- but some question whether the timing was purely accidental (Gorbachev's rival Grigory Romanov was on vacation). Indeed, Gorbachev had already done his own manuevering.

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