Staunton, Nov. 24 – Under Stalin, republic party and state leaders were frequently changed by arrests and executions; under Khrushchev, they were also changed frequently but in a bloodless way; but under Brezhnev, they were changed hardly at all, allowing many the chance to build their own power bases, according to Emil Pain.
This happened, the Moscow expert on ethnopolitics says in a new book, Ethnicity, the Nation and Politics (in Russian; Moscow: NLO), because Leonid Brezhnev, to ensure that his conspiracy against Khrushchev would work promised something that the leaders of the republics and regions were unanimous in supporting (polit.ru/article/2022/11/24/ps_pain/).
Even under Khrushchev, Pain observers, republic leaders were changed with remarkable frequently: in the Kazakh SSR alone, there were eight first secretaries of the republic Central Committee between 1953 but after that time, Dinmukhamed Kunayev was able to remain in office for 22 years.
A similar pattern was true in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Moldova and one approaching that was the case in the other republics as well. That meant that before 1964, regional leaders had little chance of building effective power bases but after that time they had the time and resources to do just that.
And that in turn meant that when the center weakened as happened in the late 1980s, they were in a position to take charge, with many of the party leaders helping their republics separate themselves from Moscow and going their own way, simultaneously transforming themselves into presidents of newly independent states.
Indeed, even before that happened, the stability of cadres Brezhnev promised and delivered significantly weakened the ability of the center to run everything according to its own desires and equally significantly increase the ability of republic leaders to make decisions on their own that took into account local attitudes and aspirations.
According to Pain, all this contributed to the process of the disintegration of the USSR. Among the factors that this stability promoted were not only a decline in central control but also the rise of what he calls “bureaucratic nationalism” and the concomitant rise of “regional ambitions.”
All this was first thrown into high relief when Mikhail Gorbachev clumsily replaced Kunayev as party leader in Kazakhstan with Gennady Kolbin, an ethnic Russian who earlier had served as the Kremlin’s watcher in Georgia as second secretary in Tbilisi. That Gorbachev move allowed the Kazakhstan establishment to organize protests.
Often these are viewed as a manifestation of nationalism in Central Asia, Pain suggests; but in fact, they were an effort by the leadership of Kazakhstan to defend the privilege of not having their leaders replaced frequently and by Moscow, an effort that had the effect of boosting nationalism there and thus contributing to what happened in 1991.