In an unexpected move that may have significant repercussions for the debate over political and economic reform, the Soviet leadership announced yesterday that it was removing the name of Leonid Brezhnev from the map of the Soviet Union. The change is of more than geographical interest. The assessment of the rule of Leonid Brezhnev, who ruled the Soviet Union from 1964 to his death in 1982, has become a major point of disagreement between supporters of radical reform and advocates of less far-reaching changes.
The official news agency Tass reported that the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee and the Supreme Soviet (parliament), had ``backed the population's proposals'' for the reinstatement of the former names of one town, a Moscow district, and two squares (one in Moscow, the other in Leningrad).
The town of Brezhnev (pop., 437,000) in the Tatar Autonomous Republic will revert to its pre-1982 name of Naberezhniye Chelni. The Moscow district of Brezhnev will once again be known by the poetic name of Cheryomushki (Bird Cherry), and two squares in Moscow and Leningrad will again be known by their previous names. A resident of Cheryomushki district was visibly delighted at the news.
The decisions will almost certainly be viewed with pleasure by proponents of radical reform and with some dismay by those who favor a slower approach to change.
Radical reformers like sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya date many of the country's present problems to the Brezhnev era. Reformers stress in particular the economic and political stagnation of the Brezhnev years, the corruption of the ruling elite, and social alienation of the bulk of the population. Yegor Ligachev, the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo and an apparent proponent of a more-gradual approach to change, has, however, spoken out forcefully in defense of many aspects of the Brezhnev years.
There had been clear signs in the last few months of a slowdown in the momentum of reform. In the last week, however, some of the most forthright supporters of radical change have begun to speak out.
The playwright Mikhail Shatrov has published a new political play that judges Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin considerably more stringently than have recent statements of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Economists Nikolai Shmelyov and Gavriil Popov have warned that the new economic policies introduced at the start of this year are in danger of being subverted by conservative bureaucrats. Mr. Popov further stressed that the old bureaucratic system of economic management was ``evading perestroika [restructuring] and turning all measures being undertaken into yet another general overhaul of the system.''
Historian Yuri Afanasyev perhaps summed up the mood of radicals best when he warned in an article on Tuesday that ``new barriers'' were being erected to change in his field.
He also attacked ``More Light,'' a documentary released last week. The film deals with the history of the Soviet Union from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 onward, and has generally been praised for its daring.
Mr. Afanasyev, however, attacked the film's ``eclectic'' method of analyzing the period: ``on this side, mass crimes, on the other great achievements.'' The methodology that Afanasyev attacked is very similar to Mr. Ligachev's view of the Stalinist 1930s. Afanasyev's strictures could also be extended to the film's analysis of the Brezhnev era, which resembled Ligachev's description of those years.
In his generally pessimistic article, Afanasyev professed to find optimism in one thing: the ``awareness of the depth of the crisis that the country is going through, and confidence that there is no alternative to the new course.''
Afanasyev, Popov, and Mr. Shmelyov were particularly active in the buildup to a plenum of the Central Committee last June, which resulted in what was seen then as a breakthrough for radical reform.