ANDROPOV by Zhores Medvedev
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Despite the paucity of facts about his life, biographies of Soviet leader Yuri Andropov proliferate. The merit of this brief rÉsumÉ by London-based biologist Zhores Medvedev (author of Soviet Science, among others, and brother of dissident historian Roy) is to establish what those few facts are: from his childhood in the Volga region and early Komsomol activity, through his rapid rise in the party system (partly via openings that resulted from Stalin's purges), to his ambassadorship in Hungary, his duties in the Central Committee's foreign affairs department, his surprising choice as head of the KGB, and finally his selection as successor to Leonid Brezhnev. Medvedev absolves Andropov of any crucial or devious role in the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolt, on grounds that Khrushchev personally controlled the situation, sometimes through his resident agent, Suslov. Medvedev himself first became aware of Andropov in 1963 when, in the wake of pseudo-geneticist Lysenko's attack on his critics (who included Medvedev), he was told that Andropov, then a secretary of the Central Committee, had discreetly been supporting genetic research. Andropov's choice to head the KGB was probably determined, in Medvedev's view, by his not belonging to any single one of the factions vying for power after Khrushchev's ouster. (Andropov had thrown in with Brezhnev, but he was not a hard-line supporter.) As KGB chief, Medvedev suggests, he conducted a nuanced campaign against the dissident movement--keeping the intellectual opposition to Brezhnev on the front pages, allowing critical books and articles to emerge from the Soviet Union (but not permitting anything critical of himself to emerge). ""After fifteen years of heading the KGB, nobody can prove his personal responsibility for excesses. . . ."" Medvedev holds Brezhnev accountable for those excesses, and he thinks that Andropov's selection as successor stemmed from opposition to Brezhnev's choice, Chernenko. One source of opposition was the army, which allegedly blamed Brezhnev's coterie for ignoring KGB intelligence on Afghanistan, thus paving the way for Soviet military difficulties. Assessing Andropov's first months in power, Medvedev regrets that he has concentrated on hard-nosed measures to improve the economy, rather than moving to open up the political system. To Medvedev, who attributes the economic mess to the political blockage, this is a backwards, and doomed, approach. So far, he says, Andropov has not shown the hoped-for broad vision of change. An informed, balanced view--and easily the best of the three entries thus far (see Ebon, p. 154, and Beichman and Bernstam, p. 604).

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1983
Publisher: Norton