A Kremlin backdrop: big and small actors in the wings
The troops and their security barriers have vanished as quickly as they appeared, carted away in olive-green trucks within an hour or so of Leonid Brezhnev's Red Square funeral.Skip to next paragraph
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It is the few odd human touches, more than the pomp and protocol of the last several days, that stick in the mind. There was the point, for instance, when Mr. Brezhnev's Politburo colleagues made their condolence call on his widow and children. So good at the scripted public functions that dominate the Soviet system, the dark-clad men were suddenly stiff, uneasy, and fumbling when filing before the bereaved family.
It is so easy to forget that the remote men who run this superpower are just plain human beings. Muscovites in general seem genuinely to regret Brezhnev's passing. Still, like people everywhere, they have their own lives to live.
At Moscow's Central Market the day Brezhnev's death was announced, a stocky woman peddling cabbage remarked that it was sad that he was gone. But for herself, there was an added problem. ''What am I going to do?'' she lamented to a small knot of customers. ''I'll be closed down for the mourning period. I'm from outside the city. Everything will go bad. I'll have to take it home with me.''
Shops in central Moscow may have shut after Brezhnev's passing. But the city's rumor mill has been churning overtime.
Example: Word went around that another veteran Politburo member, Andrei Kirilenko, had passed on. It all seemed quite believable, especially inasmuch as a Soviet journalist had ''confirmed'' the news to a West European reporter. Mr. Kirilenko's portrait had failed to appear next to that of his colleagues in the run-up to the Nov. 7 military parade. When Brezhnev passed on days later, Kirilenko was not listed among the Politburo participants in the mourning ceremonies.
Fortunately, no Western newsman reported Kirilenko's ''death.'' He was not only sighted, but also photographed, extending his condolences to the Brezhnev family. Diplomats here were left to speculate that Kirilenko's public eclipse was a sign of disgrace, not physical demise.
A small consumer warning: That special brand of tea-leaf reading known as ''Kremlinology'' may well be entering a golden age with the transition from Brezhnev's 18-year command of the Soviet Communist Party.
Moscow journalists will draw from a nuance in Pravda print, or from an extra rhetorical flourish in a Politburo speech, a deceptively confident vision of what the post-Brezhnev leadership is up to behind the walls of the Kremlin. Some signs, to be sure, are so explicit as to be unarguable. The problem is that many are not.
The game has already begun. Reporters have been poring over past speeches and writings of new party leader Yuri Andropov. From a phrase here or a phrase there come at least hedged attempts at predicting what the new party chief will actually do in the weeks or months ahead. Depending on which phrase of many is chosen, the predications vary widely. ''Kremlinology'' is the most inexact of sciences.
One of the problems with ''transitions'' is that much about them may prove simply transitional. The shape of the post-Brezhnev Soviet Union - whether at home, or in relations with other countries - is still an unanswered question.
But one impression of Mr. Andropov's first days as party leader was shared by many of the foreign envoys to his predecessor's funeral: that of a remarkable smoothness and efficiency in at least the initial stages of ''transition.''
The past few days in Moscow are not of the sort that encourages humor.
But at an early report from the United States that the country's past six secretaries of state would attend the Brezhnev funeral, one fanciful scenario invariably made the rumors of the diplomatic community.
It involved Alexander Haig, who would arrive in Moscow to declare: ''I'm in charge here.''