Friday, June 02, 2017

30 years ago today, sightseeing in Sofia with the ghost of Leonid Brezhnev.

Previously: 30 years ago today, sightseeing in Sofia (photos).

Thirty years ago, upon returning to Indiana from my summer travels, I processed my slides and organized them in carousels to view in dark of night with ample beer and the occasional frozen pizza.

Since the number of slides I possessed eventually far exceeded the available carousels, they were removed and packed into trays.

Yesterday while digitalizing the slides it abruptly dawned on me that they were not arranged chronologically. Apparently I'd seeded them to make good slide shows. Fortunately I'd numbered the slides first, in pencil. Viewing them chronologically makes far more sense during those instances when Google's street view is needed to help me remember what is before my eyes.

This brings me to the statue of Leonid Brezhnev pictured above, which I took somewhere in a public park while in Sofia on June 2, 1987 (above). In retrospect, and logically, it must have been near the Soviet war memorial.

Of course, Brezhnev was leader of the USSR for 18 years until he died in 1982. At the time, it wasn't apparent that Brezhnev's departure from the scene would pave the way for Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's collapse, Yeltsin and Putin, but this essay explains the road map.

The Death of Leonid Brezhnev and the Long Battle for Russia's Future, by Brian Whitmore (The Atlantic)

On November 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died, sparking a generational change in the Soviet leadership and setting in motion an ongoing cycle of reform and reaction in Russia that remains incomplete and inconclusive to this day. The players' names have changed as has the lexicon, but the fundamental issue remains essentially the same: how to carry out essential reforms when said reforms threaten the existing elite's continued dominance.

Here are two magical photos of Brezhnev culled from the web (thanks, Thomas). First, the Soviet leader meets Marshall Tito for fun in the Yugoslav woods, circa 1970. Brezhnev looks ready to draw his pistol, but Tito is amused.

Then, arguably the finest photo ever taken of a world leader in his dacha.

Things were so much simpler then.

Next: On June 3, 1987, from Sofia to Belgrade (and Budapest) by rail.

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