Useful Notes: Leonid Brezhnev

Think you have enough medals there?
Leonid Brezhnev was the second-longest serving leader of the Soviet Union, after only Josef Stalin. Brezhnev's eighteen-year reign coincided with most of the 1960s, the entirety of the 1970s, and the beginning of the 1980s. He's usually remembered as a stodgy old bureaucrat with senility problems. Also, there was that time he kissed East German dictator Erich Honecker.

Brezhnev was brought to power after Nikita Khrushchev was deposed by hardliners. As you might expect, Brezhnev set to work reversing Khrushchev's anti-Stalinist reforms and putting the country back on a (cold) war footing. When the Prague Spring arose in 1968, Brezhnev sent in the tanks to crush it. Although his comparatively liberal predecessor had done much the same thing to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Soviet government saw fit to justify the crushing of the Prague Spring with what became known as the "Brezhnev doctrine". The Brezhnev doctrine stated that communist countries which started to get crazy ideas about democracy or whatnot needed to be put back on course.

Brezhnev oversaw a period of stability in the Soviet Union, but also stagnation. Russians rank him as their favorite leader of the twentieth century. Internationally, the 1970s was the period of greatest communist success in the Cold War. The communist side won The Vietnam War. Neighboring Laos and Cambodia also went communist. So did Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, and Benin. Meanwhile, the West was reeling from an oil crisis and the American economy was suffering from stagflation. It was a great time to be a commie!

Then Brezhnev got the brilliant idea to invade Afghanistan in order to put down an anti-communist rebellion there. This would prove to be the greatest (and last) test for the Brezhnev doctrine.

Brezhnev in popular culture
  • He is mentioned in Pink Floyd's song "The Fletcher Memorial Home" from the album The Final Cut, as one of the "overgrown infants" and "incurable tyrants" who ought to be sent to a rest home.
  • In Spitting Image Brezhnev was often used as an extra, often in scenes with Russian settings. Since the show debuted in 1984 Brezhnev himself had already been dead for two years and was never featured as himself on the show.
  • He appears as a character in Agent Lavender.
  • He also turns up in Icarus Falls.