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Pyotr Masherov.

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Post 20 Oct 2009, 20:35
I am interested in any information about, Pyotr Masherov, the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the Belorussian SSR ,or Soviet Belarus, during the Brezhnev era.
Masherov was a candidate member of the CPSU politburo, from 1966, until he was killed in a car accident in 1980.
Post 10 Aug 2010, 22:11
Let me know Lepton, what you want to know about him. It's too big a topic.

I guess you already have the basic facts. Here is the wikipedia page.

What is not on wiki is that Masherov was truly loved in Belarus. Not the same way as Stalin in the Soviet Union, or North Korean leaders - through ideological pressure. But through achievements in comfortable economic life of ordinary Belarusians. Under his rule Belarus was the most developed region of the USSR besides the cities of Moscow and Leningrad.

In the late -70s two big clans evolved in the Communist Party. One was the Dnepropetrovsk Clan which included devoted followers of Brezhnev (the conservatives), and the other was a growing Andropov's Clan (Andropov later became the Soviet leader. However, the most famous person/leader from this clan was Gorbachev - much later).

Masherov was one of top Andropov's allies besides Gorbachev. However, unlike then virtually unknown Gorbachev, Masherov was highly popular with people of Belarus which could have easily translated into cross-USSR popularity. Andropov planned moving Masherov from Belarus to Moscow to become USSR's Prime Minister - a sign that Masherov could have been planned for the highest position in the Union, a successor to Andropov himself. And at this very moment Masherov was killed in a car accident.

Masherov's death/or murder (depending on viewpoint) is often cited as the biggest intrigue of the Communist Party history of late 70s-early 80s. Had he survived, the Soviet Union might have had a completely different story.
Post 11 Aug 2010, 19:27
Thank you for the reply. I live in the UK and I have always had a keen interest in the history and politics of the communist world. As I said in my introduction to this Forum, some time ago now, I am particularly interested in the personalities and motivations of top communist functionaries, such as Masherov, and to what extent these individuals were motivated by ideological considerations or simply by the lure of power.
I was not aware that Masherov was a close client of Yuri Andropov altho' I knew this was true of Gorbachev.
The reason I first became interested in Masherov is a bit odd. I was reading a book called Brezhnev (the masks of power) by John Dornberg. There was a photo, in the book, of the opening of a plenary session of the Supreme Soviet sometime in the 1970's. The photo showed Brezhnev, Kosygin, Podgorny and a few others sitting alongside and behind them. There was only one person I did not recognise. This character had an enigmatic, slightly cynical, smile and I had some difficulty in finding out who he was. It was Masherov!
Some time later I heard he had been killed in a road accident. I don't know how much value to place on ideas that foul play was involved.
Lastly, I am sure Masherov was motivated by a desire to "do good" as well as by power and ideology. I would welcome any further information you care to give as I doubt there is much written, about him, in English. If you know of any other sources of information, such as books, do let me know.
Last edited by Lepton on 12 Aug 2010, 11:46, edited 1 time in total.
Post 11 Aug 2010, 23:43
I welcome your interest in Masherov.

As I mentioned it before, Masherov's death was one of the biggest intrigues in the big Kremlin's Game of that time. Until now the whole story remains largely uncovered. I can hardly think of any good book in any language (be it English, Russian, or Belarusian) that would give an in-depth analysis of the Masherov's story.

Masherov was the leader of Belarus for 15 years. He was the guy who was one of two likeliest candidates to become the next Soviet leader one day (his competitor from the side of the conservatives was Aliyev, then the leader of Azerbaijan. Btw, his son Ilham Aliyev is currently the president of independent Azerbaijan). Only this alone should have generated tons of researches and materials. Yet, information on Masherov in the National Belarusian Archive is ridiculously thin, probably as much as they have on me, or any other no-name citizen. Masherov's personal archive went missing after his death.

First of all, I should probably say that most of Communist Party leaders were same regular people as we all are. Some were jerks, some were good people, some were a bit of both. Most of them had very humble backgrounds. There were no such thing as "elite clans", or "elite families", or "elite schools" that would block common people from the highest positions in the country (well, until Brezhnev's times). It wasn't the democratic election system, but still almost anyone had a chance to grow through Communist Party ranks into the top echelons.

Masherov was a typical example of a "good guy" who happened to grow through those ranks, but then ended up in a cultural contradiction with Brezhnev's "close circle". Unlike many other Belarusians I don't want to portrait him a saint, because he also did his part of damage (below), but truth to be said he did it while believing he's doing a good thing for the people.

Masherov was born in a poor peasant family right after the Revolution. His great grandfather was a French soldier from the Napoleon's army who stayed in Belarus after Napoleon's retreat. His surname was Mashero (Machereau in French). Masherov's name at birth was Pyatro Mashero. (later Belarusian Pyatro turned into Russian Pyotr, and French Mashero into Russianised Masherov). Well, that's true, to be a Communist leader you've got to have a surname that ends with Russian -ov/-ev/-in.

He studied to become a teacher of physics and math, and worked as such in Vietebsk until late 30s. But everyone's lives got changed in the WWII.

Belarusian nation had a milestone experience during WWII. I would compare it only to the effect WWII had on the Jewish nation. Belarus became a country of a classic guerrilla warfare. Up to 80% of its territory was liberated by partisans (guerrillas) before even the Red Army had arrived. Guerrilla divisions were not just big, they were huge. Bigger than the whole armies, only in addition to men they also had to include as many women, children, old men, cattle, etc. They were big enough to include artillery, tanks, and coordinate their actions with the Soviet aviation.

In the beginning of the war ordinary people started hundreds if not thousands of small (5-10 people) resistance groups. Masherov also launched a small group of youth who fought Nazis in a place called Rossony. Those groups grew, randomly merged together, etc. Their commanders grew with them. After the war, the whole Communist Party elite of the Belarusian SSR evolved from the lines of the biggest and the most successful guerrilla commanders. People like Kozlov, Lobanok, Orlov, Masherov. They had the real war experience behind their shoulders (not the emulated one like that of Brezhnev).

After the war Masherov was one of those successful commanders who was appointed into various Communist Party positions in Belarus. Eventually in 1965 he became the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Belarus (de-facto a position of a president of Belarus).

As I said, under his rule Belarus became one of the most developed regions of the USSR. Abundance of consumer goods, lots of new plants, production of electronics, machinery - all created good new jobs and fostered fast growth. I can judge about life in USA in 60s-70s only from movies. But frankly speaking, on a household level I don't see any noticeable difference between what people had in their homes in America and in Soviet regions like Belarus back then.

...need to run now, I'll write more later
Last edited by Bulbash on 12 Aug 2010, 04:29, edited 2 times in total.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 00:29
The late years of Brezhnev showed growth of corruption in the Communist Party to previously unheard level. At that time Andropov was a chairman of KGB. He was on the front-line of collecting information about the country, and he saw that something was fatally flawed in the Soviet system. Andropov's vision was that a new fresh breed of Communists leaders should be introduced to replace the old ones (no question, he was also partially motivated by an ambition). He started building his own clan in Politburo, and even using his very powerful position of the main KGB guy to attack close friends of Brezhnev.

Andropov represented the flank of reformers, opposed by the so-called conservatives.

At that time, Communist Party leaders in some republics felt themselves completely as medieval kings. That was especially true about Southern republics: Caucasus and Central Asia. They've sent royal gifts to Brezhnev's family, especially to his daughter Galina who loved diamonds. In 1978 on Brezhnev's birthday one Caucasian leader gave him a present - 15kg statue of Brezhnev made of pure gold. Others competed to give even bigger presents. Masherov's present included simple watches of the Minsk Watches Plant "Luch", a pack of mushrooms, and traditional Belarusian linen hand-towels - all this he bought out of his own legal salary. People say that Brezhnev's family took it as an insult.

Prior to Brezhnev's birthday in 1978 Communist leaders thought about the official present. Suslov suggested to give him another Hero Star - the highest award in the USSR (the third one for Brezhnev back then, eventually he's got five in total). Masherov was against it. He said that people will not understand it. There were only three persons with three Hero Stars back then: Zhukov, Kozhedub, and Pokryshkin - all were famous war heroes. Everybody knew that Brezhnev's role in the war was less than humble. (Brezhnev received his first Hero Star only in 1960 on his 60th b-day, way after the war, while Masherov was awarded Hero Star in 1944 in the middle of the war, i.e. for concrete military achievements).

This incidents spoiled previously good relationship between Brezhnev and Masherov.
Last edited by Bulbash on 12 Aug 2010, 03:31, edited 1 time in total.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 02:58
Lepton wrote:
Masherov was motivated by a desire to "do good" as well as by power and ideology.


I want to warn you from not overstating the role of ideology for that generation. Ideology certainly was a serious driver in the times of Lenin and Stalin, when USSR was only establishing itself. During Khruschev ideology was gradually replaced by feeling of competition with the USA. In Brezhnev times ideology was more like a curtain that covered everything, but it was hardly a driver for individuals. Power - yes. Greed - yes. Lust - yes. Showing off - yes. Fame - big time yes. Do-Gooding - sometimes yes. Ideology - I doubt so.

By that time Marxism meant nothing more for Soviet people than Adam Smith's invisible hand means for most of modern students. Something you prefer to leave to professors and not think much about it.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 03:22
Coming back to Masherov.

In 1978 a close ally of Adropov, Fyodor Kulakov (sorry, no English page), a member of Politburo, Secretary of the Central Committee responsible for agriculture (de-facto Minister of Agriculture) commits suicide. He cuts his veins in sauna. Andropov personally comes to the crime-scene. After investigation he receives a report that most likely Kulakov's veins were cut when he was already unconscious. I saw TV programs about this incident. Interestingly enough, the Russian wikipedia still says that Kulakov died of heart attack, and they mention suicide/murder only as theories.

The same year - 1978 - Andropov's plane crashes. A bit later, in Belarus Masherov's helicopter had its engine stalled while in the air. In both cases, it was only a coincidence that neither Andropov, nor Masherov were on board.

Andropov suspected something. He sent three special officers from the famous 9th Division (responsible for protection of top officials) to Minsk to ensure Masherov's safety. The officers arrived to Minsk just 2 hours too late - by that time Masherov was already dead.

----

Masherov was the most famous for his achievements in the economy, but at the same time he made a pretty negative impact on development of the Belarusian culture.

Belarusian literature and poetry were largely suppressed comparing to support of the Russian language everywhere. Belarusian-language schools were closed. Grammar of the Belarusian language itself was "corrected", to move it closer to Russian. Belarusian history was banned from schools.

At that time the Soviet Union was trying to create a Soviet nation (largely based on Russian). And it looks like Masherov was trying to spearhead it within his area of control. Take the fact that he changed his own surname to more Russian-like. I think he personally thought that those old legacies created unnecessary dead weight that prevented the country from moving forward.

Another explanation could be that he was indeed very ambitious and did it to pave the path for his career all the way to the top.

----

Everybody who remembers Masherov says that it was impossible not to like the guy. Very friendly, very down-to-earth. He removed all special signals from cars that served him, saying that he was not a royalty or something. He was very indifferent to wealth and luxury.

He also didn't hesitate to simply walk in the streets with one person of security, go into shops and talk to ordinary people. And this was in the country were members of Politburo, and especially leaders of the republics were god-like figures. All this bought him a lot of popularity.
Last edited by Bulbash on 12 Aug 2010, 04:22, edited 3 times in total.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 03:47
Lepton wrote:
I don't know how much value to place on ideas that foul play was involved.


Well, frankly speaking no one knows. I will not be getting into the details on the accident (2 trucks were involved). I've also personally been in that place several times. Let's put it this way, if it was a planned accident than it was conducted by the highest professionals ever. Otherwise, it could have easily been just a regular accident. Only its timing was very strange and the number of coincidences in the day prior to this fatality was just stunning.

Lastly, Masherov's funerals were not attended by a single member of Politburo from Moscow. It was highly unusual for a person of his position, and of cause it was noticed by the Belarusian public.

Masherov's legacy is still strong. His daughter once tried running for President of Belarus. Surely, she was nothing special, not a strong incumbent. But Lukashenko, the current authoritarian president, feared his name so much that he even recently ordered to rename a major avenue in Minsk from Masherov's Prospect into neutral Prospect of the Victorious.
Last edited by Bulbash on 12 Aug 2010, 04:25, edited 3 times in total.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 15:28
I would like to say thank you again for all the information, but I do realise it will be very difficult, or perhaps impossible, to get more detailed information about individuals such as Masherov.
I take your point about ideology not being a significant "driver" during, and even before, the Brezhnev era. I don't know how interested you were in the central Party apparatus in Moscow, but Western writers usually stated that Party leaders such as Mikhail Suslov and Boris Ponomaryev were the ideological "watchdogs" or guardians of ideological purity.
Whether these "Cardinals" were true believers or simply used the ideology as a justification for holding onto power is another matter. The consensus, in the West, was that the chief ideologist, Suslov, was motivated, in part, by ideology.
Going back to Masherov-it is very surprising that no members of the CPSU Politburo attended the funeral.
Were there any reasons given for this, at the time, or later?
Lastly if the present leadership, in your country, came into possession of facts that suggested foul play would they allow such information to enter the public domain.
Post 12 Aug 2010, 21:21
Lepton wrote:
Mikhail Suslov and Boris Ponomaryev were the ideological "watchdogs" or guardians of ideological purity.Whether these "Cardinals" were true believers or simply used the ideology as a justification for holding onto power is another matter.

Can't disagree

Lepton wrote:
Were there any reasons given for this, at the time, or later?

No, but it is not surprising. Politburo never explained itself. They just did what they wanted, and that's it.

Lepton wrote:
if the present leadership, in your country, came into possession of facts that suggested foul play would they allow such information to enter the public domain.

Highly unlikely. One reason, they prefer not to put a stain on Soviet times, because it's one of core-stones of their ideology. Second reason, there is a strong continuity between Belarusian KGB, and KGB of BSSR: secrets of one remain secrets of the other (regardless of country leadership). Third reason, this could give nationalists (the current opposition) a strong card to play: aka look, Russians murdered our hero! The last point: if this was a faul play, the key to it is in Moscow, and Moscow will make everything for it not to reach Minsk.

P.S. I have to admit, you are very professional in Soviet history.
Post 13 Aug 2010, 14:31
I have to thank you for that last remark!
I believe I was genuinely interested in the communist world ,especially the USSR and Eastern Europe, and I am not particularly proud of the fact I read a bit less, about that area, today. I was always keener on understanding political systems where ideology appeared to be an important component even if the ideology was little more than a veneer on the system.
Also a British historian (can't remember who) once said some students of history are "fascinated by organisation men". I know exactly what he meant altho' I can't fully explain my own fascination. Of course communist parties (in the USSR and elsewhere) were staffed by these bureaucrats or "organisation men".
I was aware of the fact that the Soviet Politburo was able to make decisions pretty much as it wanted, but I still say it was surprising no members attended the funeral. After all this was the era of Leonid Brezhnev who could be described as a careful conservative and a leader keen to avoid alienating any powerful grouping, inside the USSR, if he could avoid it. Not attending the funeral of someone like Masherov after he had been killed, in what was said to be an accident, could be interpreted as sending conflicting messages that would cause some to suspect foul play.
I supose one could compare the case of Masherov with that of Sergei Kirov. If an investigator was given free access to all relevant documents, if they still exist, it is likely the truth would emerge.
Post 14 Aug 2010, 17:19
I would like to say something more in case I give the impression that my interest in Masherov revolves solely around his death.
One can never be sure about many incidents that occur, within a closed political system, but I do not believe Pyotr Masherov was murdered.
First a car accident seems a messy, complicated and uncertain way of arranging someone's death.
Second Bulbash states Masherov was a close associate of Yuri Andropov who was head of the KGB at the time of the accident in 1980. One could argue that it would be very difficult to eliminate a very senior functionary, such as Masherov, without his knowledge and approval.
Third, and most important, I believe Brezhnev, as General Secretary at this time, still had the power to dismiss Masherov if he so desired. He was able to get rid of other senior figures such as Podgorny, Voronov and Shelest, in the Ukraine, at different times.
Post 16 Aug 2010, 00:42
If Andropov was beginning to suspect something then why didn't he start dishing out his own brand of dirty pool? As head of the KGB, I don't think that would have been hard to do.
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