Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Window on Eurasia: New Russian Film Presents Andropov as Model Leader

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 16 – A new film entitled “Yury Andropov. 15 Months of Hope” presents the longtime KGB head as the Soviet leader “most attractive for the Putin regime” because his brief reign as CPSU general secretary represents “that part of the Soviet past which is closest to the heart” of the current Russian prime minister, according to a liberal critic.
In a review of the movie, which was directed by Sergey Medvedev and shown yesterday on Moscow’s First Channel on the occasion of the Soviet leader’s 95th birthday, Boris Sokolov says that Andropov is presented as “a liberal authoritarian leader who wanted to put the state in order but would not resort to the use of Stalinist terror” (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.152434.html).
Thus, when he was serving as chairman of the KGB, Andropov is presented as having decided “not to shoot the most important dissidents, not to put them in the camps, and even not to exile them to Siberia but only to send them abroad,” with no mention of his role in the use of psychiatric prisons against them.
Nor in the film is there any mention about the extent to which Andropov during his brief period in the country’s highest office tightened censorship even though, as Sokolov points out, it was “far from liberal even in Brezhnev’s times.” And in general, the Grani.ru writer says, “the film says only good things about Andropov.”
That positive view is achieved by the director’s careful selection of “talking heads” who either “were from the group of consultants Andropov created while head of the CPSU Central Committee’s socialist countries department or from among his subordinates in the Soviet embassy in Hungary and in the KGB.”
“In order to make the image of Andropov more human,” Sokolov continues, the film describes his personal life in detail, his touching love for his second wife, and the poems which he read only in the closest circle” of friends – although reference is made to his first family which he “threw over on account of a new love or for his career” and then did not help.
But the film doesn’t focus on “such petty things.” Instead, it presents Andropov as someone who sought power only to save his country. And to that end, it presents the “legend” that Andropov’s final rise was decided only after Brezhnev’s death. “In fact,” as Sokolov notes, “Andropov became crown prince” earlier when chief ideologist Mikhail Suslov died.
A central message of the film, the liberal critic points out, is that “Andropov considered corruption the main evil” threatening the country, but he never recognized that “the level of corruption is inversely proportional to the level of the development of democracy” and so failed to bring it under control.
The film also suggests that Andropov wanted to “reform socialism” on the Hungarian model, apparently because of his experience there – although that experience involved the suppression of the 1956 revolution. But Andropov’s reforms, Sokolov reminds, were undercut by his preference for “tightening administrative control over the economy.”
Nor does the new film celebrating Andropov and his leadership style refer to the empty shelves the Soviet people confronted nor the hidden unemployment they suffered nor all the other problems of the USSR. But the film does make one thing perfectly clear to anyone who watches it, albeit almost certainly in spite of the intention of its creators. .
It shows, he says, that “the Soviet system was condemned and even an honest man, in the sense of someone like Andropov who did not take bribes and expensive gifts or give himself empty titles [as Brezhnev had] all the same could not do anything for the salvation of the system,” hardly the message supporters of today’s “liberal authoritarianism” want to deliver.

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