Kremlin renews its attack on Brezhnev years. Soviet writer's pointed words are part of effort to strip late leader of glorified image

A critical reassessment of the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev is continuing, despite some misgivings of senior Soviet leaders. The latest attack on Brezhnev, who died in 1982, came in a remark by writer Viktor Astafyev, published yesterday.

In Literaturnaya Gazeta, an influential Soviet weekly, Mr. Astafyev recalled in passing a regular sight on television in times past: ``To the accompaniment of smarmy words, unctuous smiles, and stormy applause, Brezhnev was being given another award that he didn't earn.''

In his later years, Brezhnev awarded himself the country's highest award for bravery four times. In 1976, 30 years after he completed military service, he promoted himself to the rank of marshal.

Radical reformers in the Soviet Union view Joseph Stalin and Brezhnev as the two main sources of the country's current problems. Stalin created a rigid system of administration that stifled initiative. Brezhnev deepened the problem, reformers feel, rewarding loyalty rather than ability, and permitting the Soviet Union's dramatic economic and social decline.

Reformers also see a direct link between Brezhnev and Stalin. Re-Stalinization - the partial rehabilitation of Stalin's reputation and an attack on those whom he had executed - was spearheaded in the mid-1960s by Sergei Trapeznikov, a close Brezhnev associate.

Astafyev's comment is especially intriguing because Alexander Chakovsky, the editor of Literaturnaya Gazeta, is one of the few major editors who has not been replaced since Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985. He is reputed to have been a confidante of Brezhnev.

An effort to scale down Brezhnev's reputation has been under way for some time. Official references to the country's current economic problems usually say that stagnation set in over the last 10 to 15 years. (Brezhnev was Communist Party leader from 1964 to 1982).

The 1985 edition of the ``Military Encyclopedic Dictionary'' described Brezhnev in fulsome terms. The latest edition of the dictionary, published in late 1986, omitted the most flattering references, as well as an adulatory summary of Brezhnev's political achievements.

Not all the Soviet leaders seem happy with this. Speaking about the Brezhnev years in a speech this August, Yegor Ligachev, second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo, tried to balance the negative side of them with what he considered their positive achievements.

``National income rose four times, people's lives became richer, both spiritually and materially. We attained strategic parity [in nuclear weapons] with the United States,'' Mr. Ligachev told his audience. He was ``immeasurably grateful,'' he said, that he had been part of these times. Only then did he begin to discuss the negative side of the Brezhnev years - misuse of power and other problems.

Astafyev's barbed remarks about Brezhnev are in an article on World War II. Astafyev is a controversial writer who has sometimes expressed anti-Jewish views, and is described by some literary colleagues as a social conservative. His article stresses the contribution of ordinary soldiers and combat officers, and is scathing about the role played by staff officers and those in charge of the rear. Ironically, Astafyev's views - an emphasis on discipline, law, and order - have often been ascribed to Ligachev.

Astafyev belongs to a loose fraternity of Siberian writers that is thought to have good relations with Ligachev.

For many years, Ligachev worked in Siberia.

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