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10-08-2015, 21:01


Brezhnev also initiated a significant retreat from the policy of destalinization adopted by Nikita Khrushchev. Criticism of the “Great Leader” had angered conservatives both within the party hierarchy and among the public at large, many of whom still revered Stalin as a hero of the Soviet system and a defender of the Russian people against Nazi Germany. Many influential figures in the Kremlin feared that destalinization could lead to internal instability and a decline in public trust in the legitimacy of party leadership—the hallowed “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Early in Brezhnev’s reign, Stalin’s reputation began to revive. Although his alleged “shortcomings” were not totally ignored, he was now described in the official press as “an outstanding party leader” who had been primarily responsible for the successes achieved by the Soviet Union. The regime also adopted a more restrictive policy toward free expression and dissidence in Soviet society. Critics of the Soviet system, such as the physicist Andrei Sakharov, were harassed and arrested or, like the famous writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, forced to leave the country. There was also a qualified return to the anti-Semitic policies and attitudes that had marked the Stalin era. Such indications of renewed repression aroused concern in the West and were instrumental in the inclusion of a statement on human rights in the 1975 Helsinki Agreement, which guaranteed the sanctity of international frontiers throughout the continent of Europe (see Chapter 7). The political stamp of the Brezhnev era was formally enshrined in a new state constitution, promulgated in 1977. Although the preamble declared that the Soviet Union was no longer a proletarian dictatorship but rather a “state of all the people,” comprising workers, farmers, and “socialist intellectuals,” it confirmed the role of the Communist Party as “the predominant force” in Soviet society. Article 49 stated that “persecution for criticism shall be prohibited,” but Article 62 qualified the rights of the individual by declaring that citizens “shall be obligated to safeguard the interests of the Soviet state and to contribute to the strength of its might and prestige.” There were, of course, no rival voices to compete with the party and the government in defining national interests. The media were controlled by the state and presented only what the state wanted people to hear. The two major newspapers, Pravda (Truth) and Izvestiya (News), were the agents of the party and the government, respectively. Cynics joked that there was no news in Pravda and no truth in Izvestiya. Reports of airplane accidents in the Soviet Union were rarely publicized on the grounds that doing so would raise questions about the quality of the Soviet airline industry. The government made strenuous efforts to prevent the Soviet people from exposure to harmful foreign ideas, especially modern art, literature, and contemporary Western rock music. When the Summer Olympic Games were held in Moscow in 1980, Soviet newspapers advised citizens to keep their children indoors to protect them from being polluted with “bourgeois” ideas passed on by foreign visitors. For citizens of Western democracies, such a political atmosphere would seem highly oppressive, but for the people in the Soviet republics, an emphasis on law and order was an accepted aspect of everyday life inherited from the tsarist period. Conformism was the rule in virtually every corner of Soviet society, from the educational system (characterized at all levels by rote memorization and political indoctrination) to child rearing (it was forbidden, for example, to be left-handed) and even to yearly vacations (most workers took their vacations at resorts run by their employer, where the daily schedule of activities was highly regimented). Young Americans studying in the Soviet Union reported that friends there were often shocked to hear U.S. citizens criticizing their own president and to learn that they did not routinely carry identity cards.