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Report: Brezhnev Revived From Clinical Death, Left Senile Last Years Of Rule

September 8, 1988 GMT

MOSCOW (AP) _ Leonid Brezhnev was revived from clinical death in 1976, but was left so senile and weakened he had difficulty performing simple tasks the last six years of his rule, a Soviet historian says.

The historian, Roy Medvedev, wrote in an article entitled ″Advantages of Mediocrity″ that the late president and Communist Party general secretary was weak-willed, untalented and the object of ridicule among many Soviets.

Medvedev said Brezhnev ″ceased to understand what was going on around him″ and his public appearances, during which he had to be held by each arm, drew public ire.

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″The Soviet leader’s senility, infirmity and sickness became a subject not so much of compassion and pity on the part of Soviet citizens, but rather of irritation and mockery, expressed ever more openly,″ Medvedev wrote.

The article, in the latest edition of the weekly Moscow News, was published while Brezhnev’s son-in-law Yuri Churbanov and eight co-defendants were being tried in Moscow on corruption and bribery charges.

Churbanov, the husband of Brezhnev’s daughter Galina, was deputy interior minister under his father-in-law. He pleaded guilty Thursday to abuse of office, but denied taking bribes. Prosecutors alleged he accepted $1 million in bribes.

The trial and appearance of Medvedev’s article are part of the increasingly harsh assessment of Brezhnev’s rule taking place under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Brezhnev’s rule from 1964 until his death in 1982 are now condemned officially as ″years of stagnation″ in which the economy slumped, mistakes were made in foreign policy, and corruption and cronynism prevailed.

A campaign has been launched to rid the country of Brezhnev’s legacy. Almost daily criticism of him appears in the Soviet press. Streets and towns have been stripped of his name, a palace built for him has been turned over to the public, and libraries cannot carry literature produced during his rule.

Medvedev said Brezhnev’s health worsened in 1969 or 1970 until ″at one point in early 1976, he was clinically dead and after being revived, had to wait for three months for his thinking and speech to normalize.″ He did not say what Brezhnev nearly died of.

The leader’s working day was cut to a few hours, and ″it became increasingly difficult for him to perform even the simplest protocol duties,″ Medvedev wrote.

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Medvedev described Brezhnev, who died at age 75, as a vain man whose jacket was heavy with military decorations, even though ″he took no part in the decisive battles of the Patriotic War (World War II).″

Throughout most of his life, Brezhnev advanced by being unoffensive to political cronies, Medvedev suggested.

″He wasn’t a climber who elbowed his way to the top or betrayed his friends. He was calm, loyal to colleagues and higher-ups. He didn’t so much move ahead himself as he was moved ahead by others,″ Medvedev said.

A notoriously poor speaker, Brezhnev made speeches almost weekly in which ″he often mispronounced words, long words being the hardest for him. His speechwriters were strictly instructed not to include long words in prepared texts,″ Medvedev wrote.

Brezhnev got his start in the Ukrainian city of Dneprodzerzhinsk. He became party chief in Moldavia and later was sent by Nikita Khrushchev to Kazakhstan to direct land reclamation.

He returned to Moscow two years later and ″managed to transfer some of the people he had worked with in Moldavia and the Ukraine to Moscow,″ the historian wrote.

Medvedev said Brezhnev moved into the power seat because his do-nothing approach was exactly what officials wanted after Khrushchev, who was constantly pushing reform.

″After Khrushchev’s removal, the top party-state apparatus didn’t want an overly strong leader. They wanted a quieter life and quieter work. Brezhnev’s victory was thus based on weakness and the absence of obvious ambition and craving for power,″ the article said.

Medvedev said Brezhnev’s legacy is of ″mismanagement, irresponsibility ... The corruption eroding society became more abashed and insolent, the abuses of power (and) the embezzling on large and small scales became the norm.″

Medvedev was expelled from the Communist Party under Brezhnev and his brother, Zhores, was declared insane. Soviet publications began printing some of Roy Medvedev’s controversial works only this year under Gorbachev’s policy of ″glasnost,″ or openness.

He is the author of ″Let History Judge,″ a celebrated indictment of the Stalinist period that has yet to be published in the Soviet Union. Along with Zhores, he also has written a piercing criticism of Khrushchev.