New Book Explores Human Side of Brezhnev

When Professor Susanne Schattenberg set out to write a new biography of Leonid Brezhnev,her aim was to show the characteristics of Brezhnev as a ‘human being’ while at the same time analyse him in the context of Soviet politics and the culture in which he grew up.

Professor Susanne Schattenberg

‘I went to 20 archives in Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Germany and France,’ said Professor Schattenberg, who serves as Director andProfessor for Contemporary East European History and Culture at the University of Bremen, which focuses on the history of the late Soviet Union and the present development of Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia. ‘I visited the places where Brezhnev worked, plus I did research in the archives of foreign ministries of Germany, and France. Since the US documents concerning foreign relations are all online, I accessed them on the internet.’

Professor Schattenberg, who was at HSE Moscow on June 4 to present her new book entitled Leonid Breschnew - Staatsmann und Schauspieler im Schatten Stalins. Eine Biographie (Leonid Brezhnev – Statesman and Actor in the Shadow of Stalin. A biography), says that there are a number of messages in the book. One of the main ones is that Brezhnev sought to establish a firm, durable peace with the West and that he nearly achieved it had there not been his addiction to pills. The book has been well received by both Western and Russian historians, although she says, ‘I’m still waiting for those accusing me of being too Brezhnev-friendly!’

Researching and writing a book like this undoubtedly took considerable time and resources, which is why Professor Schattenberg’s team is working hard to develop a unique archive of Samizdat-literature and personal archives of Soviet dissidents.

‘Our priority is to make the metadata accessible in the internet and attract researchers from all over the world. We have a great team and a grant from Bremen university that allowed me to take leave from teaching during the two years it took to write my book,’ she says.

But Professor Schattenberg is not resting on her laurels and is already planning her next project.‘I plan to write the history of how Brezhnev sold oil and gas to the West to keep the capitalist engine running, while the West sent the products the Soviet Union needed to supply the people with all the things he had promised socialism would provide,’ she says.