May 01, 1997

The Body Politic

Throughout its seventy year history, the political health of the Soviet Union was seen, both in the West and in Russia, as a reflection of the personal health of its leaders. From Lenin’s arrested vision to Brezhnev’s slurred speech, the true health of Russia’s communist leaders was a closely-guarded state secret, ever the subject of rumors, jokes and speculation. Only in recent years have secret archives been opened, so that information about past leaders’ health could become available. And only in the last few years have Russians, through the power of the press, public protests and free speech, successfully demanded the truth about their current politicians’ health. In this context, Russian Life asked noted historian Roy Medvedev to trace the history of Soviet and Russian leaders’ health, and how their health, or lack of it, reflected on politics.


In order to survive the many carnivorous power struggles endemic to climbing the political ladder in the Soviet Union and the current Russian Federation, virtually all Soviet and Russian leaders had to be vigorously healthy when they were young. The battles they engaged in, against ideological rivals and foes, required almost superhuman energy and efforts. Such demands on an individual’s health were intensified by the fact that, once obtained, the totalitarian crown required a single person to tackle all the problems the country might face.

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