Two Presidents

(The Nationalist, 12 July 2002)


About fifteen years ago, when the USSR was still in existence, Joseph Brezhnev, brother of Leonid Brezhnev, the President of the Soviet Union, published his memoirs. Joseph was of no political significance but he was close to his brother and used to visit him in the Kremlin. There Leonid would let his hair down and talk about the problems he faced leading the Soviet Union.

One day, Leonid was talking about how to maintain unity in such a vast and diverse Union. He said, ‘Some countries beat the nationalist drum as a way of rallying people around the flag; but in the Soviet Union we have so many nationalities that nationalism is the very thing that would destroy the Union. Less than half the population are ethnic Russians’. ‘Some maintain unity through a common religion; but we crushed the Russian Orthodox Church’. ‘Some countries have a monarchy as a symbol of unity; but we killed the Tsar and his family’. ‘Some hold over their people the fear of an external enemy; we did that for decades after the war, talking about German militarism, but that is no longer credible’. ‘Some maintain unity by a common ideology; officially, of course, we have one – Marxism – but nobody believes it any more. It’s just like children’s fairy tales’. Yes, this was the leader of the Soviet Union speaking! ‘Some have a system of government which delivers the goods. People are happy with that and have no reason to upset the apple cart. Our system is based on a materialistic philosophy which does not deliver the material goods. Judged on its own terms, it has failed’. And he went on ‘Stalin maintained the Union through terror; I’m not prepared to do that’.

Brezhnev continued, asking the question, ‘What is it that keeps the Soviet Union together?’ He concluded that it was only inertia, lack of imagination and of courage. No one was prepared to say that the king wore no clothes.

Well, we know what happened. Brezhnev died in 1982 and the Soviet Union went out of existence on Christmas Day 1991.

In January this year, Ms. Karen House, an American journalist, interviewing another president, asked him if he were a religious man. He paused, then remarked that everybody should have within them a moral, spiritual basis, and there was none better than religion. He went on, ‘If there is a God, he, it, must be in the heart of a person. Religion is very important for a country like Russia, for nothing can express universal human values in a human soul as effectively as religion. Religion makes a person spiritually richer’. The stunned journalist could scarcely believe that she had been interviewing Vladimir Putin, President of Russia.