Out of Ukraine: Where Jokes about Leonid Brezhnev Have No Grave Side

Article excerpt

KIEV - A sure sign that history is no longer stuck on fast-forward is Brezhnev jokes. I encountered the revival in a village off the road from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to the city of Kharkiv. The name is Teplivka. The 1,100 Ukrainian peasants who live there call home the Lenin Collective Farm.

Ivan Kuzmenko and his friends were standing outside the village beer shack telling me how everyone on the collective used to live like a king: "We had everything back then, everything." Not entirely convinced, I asked whether Brezhnev really had provided such a fun-filled cornucopia? This was Ivan's cue.

It turns out that Brezhnev made one last request on his death bed - that he be buried face down. Kremlin aides demurred but Brezhnev was adamant. He explained: "For the first five years after my death everyone will want to spit in my face. Face down, I'll be safe. Then, after five years, everything will begin to change. I must be face down so everyone can kiss my ass."

Recent elections in Ukraine suggest the process is well underway, though it should be said that, even during the first five years, there was never much spitting. Elections in March made the Communists the biggest bloc in parliament. After the first round of a presidential poll last Sunday, the favourite to win is Leonid Kravchuk, who, aside from an overnight conversion in 1991 to the inviolability of Ukrainian statehood, seems to operate much the same way as he did while head of ideology for the Communist Party's Ukrainian chapter before independence.

Ukraine has seen two of the greatest man-made disasters of the century. Both were imposed by outsiders: Stalin's great famine and Hitler's invasion. Its economic collapse under Mr Kravchuk has led to fears of a third catastrophe. …