November 15, 1982 – The View From Red Square – Funeral For Brezhnev
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November 15, 1982 – Radio Moscow English Language Service -Funeral For Leonid Brezhnev – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
On 10 November 1982, Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, the third General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the fifth leader of the Soviet Union, died aged 75, a month before his 76th birthday after suffering a heart attack following years of serious ailments. His death was officially acknowledged on 11 November simultaneously by Soviet radio and television. After five days of national mourning, Brezhnev was given a state funeral and then buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Yuri Andropov, Brezhnev’s eventual successor as general secretary, was chairman of the committee in charge of managing Brezhnev’s funeral, held on 15 November 1982, five days after his death.
Brezhnev had struggled with several ailments since 1974, most notably heart disease, leukemia, jaw cancer, emphysema and circulatory disease, all of which had been exacerbated by his heavy smoking and obesity. There had been rumors of Brezhnev’s death ever since the mid-1970s; he had been absent from important meetings demanded by protocol and it was rumored that his health was in decline. Brezhnev had rarely appeared in public for most of 1982 and was usually surrounded by doctors, although the Soviet Government insisted that he was not ill. He suffered a severe stroke in May 1982, but refused to relinquish office until he died on 10 November 1982 after suffering a heart attack. He was honored with a state funeral in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis on the Red Square after a five-day period of nationwide mourning.
The first hint of his death to the Soviet people came at 7:15 p.m. Moscow Time, when the usual television programs were altered and a pop music concert was replaced by a documentary on Vladimir Lenin. On Vremya, the Soviet Union’s state television newscast, the hosts wore somber clothes instead of their normally informal dress code. At first, Soviet citizens believed it was Andrei Kirilenko who had died, as he had not been present at the 65th anniversary of the October Revolution a few days earlier (he died in 1990). Furthermore, other abrupt changes to the television line-up occurred, such as the appearance of an unscheduled program of war reminiscences and the replacement of an ice hockey game on Channel Two with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony. Brezhnev’s death was announced on 11 November simultaneously by Soviet radio and television hosts. The television announcement was read by Igor Kirillov with tears in his eyes at 11 a.m. Moscow Time.
Western commentators had already speculated that Brezhnev had died when he failed to sign a message of congratulations to José Eduardo dos Santos, the President of Angola, for the Angolan Independence Day. This was a breach of protocol, and, as Brezhnev had earlier signed messages to all Soviet-aligned heads of state, the absence of his signature was seen as suspicious. The delay in declaring the death of Brezhnev was seen as proof of the ongoing power struggle in the Soviet leadership over who would succeed him. Konstantin Chernenko was seen as the most likely candidate to succeed Brezhnev.
Here is a report via shortwave from the English language service of Radio Moscow, given on November 15, 1982. Since the broadcast was via shortwave – long before the days of streaming – it might be hard to make out the words here and there. But it IS history.