Brezhnev junior tries to keep the red flag flying

BREZHNEV lent across my office desk, sighed, and knotted the familiar caterpillar eyebrows as he prepared to outline his world vision with the confidence of a man used to ruling.

The fact that the barrel chest was clad today not in medals, but a brown woolly jumper and tie-less shirt - he was in mufti for his visit to the the Independent on Sunday - took nothing away from the solemnity of his mission. Communism needs to be sold anew, and he was determined to do it.

"Many people are afraid of the mere word," he explained, "Our task is to make Communism more attractive to people, and to get integrated into Euro-Communism."

This is not the late Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union for 18 years, but his grandson, Andrei Brezhnev, the 37-year-old moderniser and progressive who has launched a political party, reviving a surname which the world still associates with the Cold War, Afghanistan, and repression.

He is a ringer for the old man; he has the same burly build, wide cheekbones and downturned mouth. He is friendly, humourous, and articulate.

For all his faults, he argued, his grandfather was a real leader. "Brezhnev's Communism had the same character as Stalin's," he explained, "It was totalitarian. Such a regime is alright during the war - we did win, after all - but afterwards it stayed the same, although everything around it changed. It should have adapted itself."

His own politics are more flexible in nature, and embrace much of Western socialism, such as democratic pluralism and property rights. "Who is bothered by private property? These are people with initiative, so give them the chance to run a small business on their land," he says.

With this creed, the junior Mr Brezhnev has founded the All-Russian Communist Social and Political Movement, an organisation which was registered only last month, but which he claims now has 5,000 supporters spread over 47 regions.

He thinks the name helps, even though Russians derided Leonid Brezhnev during his long, infirm, twilight years. He believes his grandfather's reputation has rallied anew, buoyed up by anger over corruption and poverty, and frustration over the return of stagnation under the sick Boris Yeltsin.

"People have being saying that it wasn't so bad in Brezhnev's times as we thought. These are old people who now don't get their pensions, people who aren't receiving wages, students who don't get their stipends. In Brezhnev's time, if wages were delayed two days, it was an extraordinary event and people were punished."

In those days - in contrast to today's wild and lawless society - Russians knew what to expect. "At that time everybody knew what their job was, and where they stood in the hierarchy. The directors and the party secretaries were the masters of the country."

He remembers his granddad as a "jolly, sociable man" whom he saw at weekends, but who was always surrounded by people and working.

Name or no name, Andrei Brezhnev has a mountain to climb. He has none of the wealth required to wield influence in Russia, and refuses to have anything to do with the Russian Communist party, which he derides as a bunch of squabbling, backward-looking pensioners.

And the carping has already begun from his critics, among them Nikita Khrushchev, grandson and namesake of the leader Leonid Brezhnev ousted in 1964. Last week he poured scorn on the new party's chances.

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