Sunday, August 05, 2007

Brezhnev & Honecker

The East Side Gallery in East Berlin is probably the largest and everlasting open art gallery in the world. Immediately after the fall of the wall, international artists came to Berlin to paint the wall with murals and artistic encouragements. A popular one reads, "No more wars. No more walls. A united world." But the most widely known of these are the figures of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker holding each other and kissing (pictured right). Perhaps less known is the fact that the kiss was originally a mistake; in a hurry to perform the formality and get it over with, one of them aimed at the wrong cheek, and this resulted in an unintended lipsmacking socialist spectacle. One thing is certain--that it came to represent the absurdity of Communist ideology.

Brezhnev, although anti-Stalinist while Krushchev was in power, was pro-Stalinist once he came into power himself. Stalin was then mentioned positively as Brezhnev began reversing Krushchev's policies and started to wield his own repressive cultural policies. When he criticized the Czech leadership as "revisionist" and "anti-Soviet" for liberalizing its politics in 1968, he was met with the student Prague Spring uprising. The Breshnev Doctrine was essentially that the Soviet Union had the right to interfere with the politics of satellite nations to "safeguard socialism". The Helsinki Final Act treaty, a complete failure for the Western countries, legitimized Soviet repression in the satellite countries. All the Western states received in return was the Soviet promise that human rights would be respected in the Soviet sphere of influence. Yet almost as soon as Brezhnev became Chairman of the Communist Party, and the Supreme Soviet of the Union, an economic-slowdown ensued. Dissidents were routinely arrested. Ironically, Brezhnev referred to this as the "Period as Developed Socialism". In fact, the Constitution used to read, "The developed Socialist society is a natural, logical stage on the road to Communism."

And in 1961, it was Erich Honecker who was responsible for building the Berlin Wall. After a power struggle, he replaced Walter Ulbricht as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (SED). Honecker developed a program of "consumer socialism" which used capitalism to boost the performance of the GDR economy. But once Leipzig was protesting every Monday, and the wall soon fell, Honecker was sought after for war crimes and deaths of 192 East Berliners who died escaping to the West.

To depict these two ferocious leaders as being not only in political and ideological union but sexual union as well, successfully illustrates how secrecy and illegitimacy flourished in the Soviet system. It means that something sexual, the mother of all secrets, was taking place behind the scenes, and it hints at much more. For Berliners, to see these two stooges of Socialist power in their region kissing must have been liberating. Emulations and spin-offs of the original work began to surface soon afterward. For example, there is another popular depiction of the Honecker and Brezhnev kissing while a car is crashing through the wall. This seems to suggest that the two leaders are so wrapped up in their own secrets that neither of them is paying attention to where the car is headed, and it ends up crashing through the "anti-fascist protective barrier" into West Germany. Struggling to contain the secrets of Soviet power, the nation crashes itself into Western sphere of influence and thus exposes all its secrets.

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