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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Brezhnev Jr.: A Chip Off the Old Soviet Block




The freshest party to appear on the Russian political horizon is an odd hybrid of communism and capitalism, rooted in the legacy of the stagnation era.


The grandson of Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union for 18 years, Wednesday announced the creation of his own political movement.


Andrei Brezhnev, 37, bears a striking resemblance to his grandfather, with thick eyebrows and a chest broad enough to wear rows of medals. He hopes to appeal to older Russians nostalgic for the 1970s, known as the stagnation period.


But he said he also wants to win the support of a new generation of Russian businessmen like himself.


His ideology shows the same sort of split personality. In keeping with the family tradition, the younger Brezhnev says he is a confirmed communist. He still has his red Young Pioneer's tie, his party membership card and warm memories of the past.


But it seems communism has been revised since his grandfather's time.


"In works by Marx, Engels or Lenin, you won't find any mention that private property is bad," Brezhnev said, but then immediately added that key sectors should be in state hands.


His party, the All-Russian Communist Social and Political Movement, was registered Sept. 30 with the Justice Ministry. The movement now claims to have 5,000 followers in 47 regions of Russia.


His political plans sounded equally vague. Brezhnev didn't say whether he would run in parliamentary elections in 1999, but he hinted broadly that he may join the presidential race in 2000.


"We are not going to take the Kremlin with pitchforks," he said at a Moscow news conference. "We'll be playing political games, but not so sluggishly as the Communists."


The younger Brezhnev said he expected to have no trouble financing his campaign: "Leonid Ilyich did lots of good for thousands of people in our country and abroad. If necessary, these people will come to help."


So far he says he has relied on personal savings, denying reports that the Soviet leader left a rich inheritance.


"I have no Rembrandts, no car collections, no islands near Cuba or party gold," he said, adding that his grandfather left him only with portraits of himself wearing rows of gleaming medals.


The new movement drew skepticism from another grandson, the namesake of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who was pushed out in 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev.


"I'm not sure this is a real movement," said Nikita Khrushchev, 39, a researcher at the Moscow News newspaper. "I think there are shady puppeteers hiding behind the big name. Some agrarian party offered me a similar deal, but I said no."


The younger Brezhnev, who studied at the prestigious Moscow State Institute for International Relations, worked in the Foreign Trade Ministry in the late 1980s. He jumped into business when the Communist regime collapsed in 1991. Since 1997, Brezhnev said, he has been the president of a charitable children's foundation.


Still, he said he believes communism was not proved a failure and still has much to offer.


"All good ideas can be distorted," Brezhnev said. "Communism is more than the unsuccessful practice of particular parties. There are dozens of versions of capitalism, including the ones of Suharto and Pinochet, but nobody claims that market economics has discredited itself."


Brezhnev's dislike of Gennady Zyuganov's mainstream Communist Party runs deep, however.


He called it a "bureaucratic party of high-ranking nomenklatura" professing "soft nationalism."


Brezhnev said he was inspired to form his party after the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda published letters last summer from readers who had fond memories of his grandfather's years in the Kremlin.


He said industry, science and space development were at their height and the army was strong. Jobs were secure, education and health care were free. People had televisions and refrigerators full of food.


"In Gorbachev's time they tried to bend us to their will, but it became clear that life wasn't that bad back then. ? Not everything was great, but there is still trust [in our family]," he said.


His grandfather, though, could have done some things differently.


"People should have been given more political freedom. People should have been able to form parties," the younger Brezhnev said, but then he added that only if they were under state control to assure their "socialist orientation."


While the budding politician is hoping to benefit from his grandfather's legacy, he also may find that he inherits his place as the butt of popular jokes.


Cartoonist Andrei Bilzho, who designed the popular Petrovich Club, which plays on Soviet nostalgia, said the younger Brezhnev has misread the Russian people.


"He believes his name is his advantage, but I think it's actually working against him," Bilzho said. "Somebody is clearly behind him. Probably only narrow-minded working class types in their mid-50s would follow this guy."