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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Andropov Nostalgia Rules

By Thomas de Waal THE MOSCOW TIMES It could have happened this way: "Comrades! We must not slacken our resolve in fighting corruption and sloth in our society and we must renew our vigilance against the threats of international imperialism with renewed vigor," Yu. V. Andropov said on his 80th birthday. Birthday greetings were sent to the general secretary by brotherly socialist leaders, Comrades Castro, Jaruzelski, Ceaucescu ..." Itar-Tass, June 15, 1994 "The recent reports of ethnic protest in Lithuania and Tajikistan show that all is not well in the Soviet empire. But Andropov's regime of "vigilant socialist order" shows no sign of crumbling. Probably only his death will harbor real political change for Communism. Only then will men like liberal Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev have the chance to prove their credentials..." Editorial, The New York Times, June 15, 1994 Fantasy? Of course. Andropov, the man who replaced Leonid Brezhnev as general secretary of the Communist Party, died in 1984 of kidney failure at 69. After a brief twilight reign by Konstantin Chernenko, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. We all know the rest. And yet, with what would have been Yury Andropov's 80th birthday last week, it seems the country is ripe for nostalgia about the man. "Had Andropov lived another two or three years the Soviet Union would exist today," his aide Yevgeny Kalgin told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. "The country would be politically stable and slowly turning its face to the outer world." In the same paper Vladimir Kryuchkov, Andropov's successor as KGB chief and the brains behind the August 1991 attempted coup, told us what a cultured man Andropov was. Apparently he admired Nikolai Berdyayev, the ?migr? thinker, and Nikolai Gumilyov, the monarchist poet shot by the KGB's forerunners, the Cheka. Andropov nostalgia stretches even to the remote hills of Georgia, as I found out when I went into the only caf? in the Greek town of Tsalka and saw his picture on the wall. "He was a great man," said the assembled mustachioed locals. "And a Greek." I cannot verify his ethnic descent. But it was clear in a town that had kept its Stalin Street but renamed Lenin Street -- after Aristotle, bizarrely enough -- where their loyalties lay. It is not hard to see the reasons for the Andropov nostalgia. The country is in chaos. Andropov is remembered as a man of iron discipline who cracked down on corruption and absenteeism in the workplace. But the other Andropov is conveniently forgotten. He was the Soviet Ambassador in Hungary in 1956 when tanks rolled into Budapest. He headed the secret police for 15 years when it persecuted Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. The Andropov debate is one about law and order. Whereas in the West the two are lumped together, in Russia they always seem to be at opposite poles. Law is civic rights, a legal system with checks and balances, a constitution safeguarded by a constitutional court, something Russia has never had. Order is quiet streets clear of thieves, beggars and demonstrators and full of eagle-eyed militiaman checking your papers. After a long swing towards law, at the moment it seems the pendulum is turning back towards order. And Andropov is the patron of order. Yeltsin last week donned his iron gloves and issued a decree on fighting crime that will have gladdened the heart of all secret policemen, giving them the powers to detain suspects for 30 days without charges and search premises without a warrant. Then on Tuesday Yeltsin's close ally Vladimir Shumeiko said openly that parliamentary elections due in 1995 should be put off and hinted Yeltsin should stay longer in office too. Recently Yeltsin's watchwords have been "stability" and "calm" with much less mention of the democratic process. He, too, was a member of the Andropov fan club in 1989, judging by an interview with Radio Liberty. Asked his opinion of the ex-KGB chief he said, "A very high one. I was received by him twice. Of course we needed more of a general secretary like that." Yeltsin must know that the surest way to win again the hearts of the Russian people would be by sweeping crime off the streets. And if they had order then maybe people would be glad to see him carry on, elections or no elections. If he succeeds, Yeltsin will have re-imposed order by trampling on a few -- or a lot of -- democratic rights. Were he still alive, Yury Vladimirovich Andropov would have approved.