Revenge of the Prussians – The House of Soviets In Kaliningrad (Part 2)

In 1968 the leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev issued a directive that the ruins of Königsberg Castle were to be blown up and cleared from the center of Kaliningrad. Brezhnev, as a true communist ideologue, stated that the castle represented “a hornet’s nest of militarism and fascism.” Despite the protests of intellectuals and preservationists, it was not long after Brezhnev’s decree that the castle’s ruins were dynamited and bulldozed. Over 600 years of history exploded into dust and then was swept from the surface of the city center. The physical remnants of the castle were gone. Beneath the surface though, the situation was much different. Subterranean chambers of the castle still existed. These would exact a bit of poetic vengeance on the Soviets. For the rest of history, the castle has been more than a memory. It has been a curse upon Soviet efforts to recreate the site in their own image.

The final remains of Königsberg Castle being demolished in 1968

The final remains of Königsberg Castle being demolished in 1968

Sinking Into Dystopia – Model for a Model City
Kaliningrad – formerly Königsberg, the capital of East Prussia – was supposed to become a model communist city where all traces of its ethnic German past would vanish. Instead the newborn city would be transformed into a place where many of its citizens wished for a return to the city’s Germanic past, at least in an architectural sense. Soon after the final destruction of the castle ruins, the Soviets set about recreating the site. They constructed a building that would come to represent them in ways they could not possibly have imagined. The plan was for a 28-story building, created from that all-time favorite Soviet building material, concrete. The building was to act as Communist Party headquarters for Kaliningrad and the surrounding region. It would be called the House of Soviets, a lasting centerpiece for the totally Sovietized city.

The problems started early and often. The site did not have the best foundations, partly due to all the destruction that Soviet demolition efforts had wrought upon it. The building was placed in an area that had been one of the castle’s moats. To make matters worse, originally the castle had been built atop what had once been marshland. Former marshland, on a former moat, turned out to be a good place for one thing, sinking. The extreme weight of the building from tons and tons of concrete served to further destabilize the site. Subsurface chambers from the castle began to collapse adding to the porous quality of the site. The sinking became known as the “Revenge of the Prussians.” The end result was nothing less than a monstrosity. Among innumerable problems were structural deficiencies exacerbated by a flawed design. The construction took longer than expected. Only 21 of the 28 stories were finished, meanwhile the interior was still uninhabitable. When the project dragged on for decades the city administration lost interest. Lack of funding finally brought construction to a halt.

House of Soviets - with a fresh coat of paint

House of Soviets – with a fresh coat of paint

Facing up to the Faceless –Post-Cold War Style
The House of Soviets was never completed as originally designed. The result was more like a house of never ending horrors, from structural to financial to aesthetic. Kaliningrad was left with an eyesore in one of its most prominent public spaces. It could be seen throughout the city, always lurking as a reminder of the failure of centralized state planning.  Utopia could not be created, but dystopia was certainly within reach. Kaliningrad never came close to the grand designs placed upon it. The House of Soviets was a microcosm of the city, impersonal, dehumanizing and unsightly. After the Soviet Union collapsed a conversation started among the city’s leadership on how to improve the look and feel of the city. Not surprisingly their focus turned to the House of Soviets. How could it not, the building never had gone away. Stolid and unyielding the building stood as a testament to waste and stupidity.

In 2005 none other than the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin visited Kaliningrad. In preparation the city decided that something must be done to spruce up the House of Soviets. New windows were installed, quite a feat that the communists had been unable to achieve. A face lift was also in order, but only in a cosmetic sense. The exterior was painted blue and white to help cover up the concrete. A paltry attempt to give the House of Soviets something it never really had: a veneer of aesthetic respectability. Whatever Putin thought of this, if he even noticed, was not forthcoming. His actions on behalf of Kaliningrad spoke louder than any paint job ever would. Putin paid for a new organ to be placed in the reconstructed Königsberg Cathedral, that Gothic symbol of Teutonic creativity and style.  Even for a man who had publicly mourned the passing of the Soviet Union, the House of Soviets was not worth Putin’s attention or considerable financial resources. Perhaps that is because the building exposes the failure of Soviet style administration.

For what they dream of - Königsberg before World War II

For what they dream of – Königsberg before World War II

Backwards Into the Future – The House of Königsberg
Since the Soviet Union’s collapse one question keeps arising: What to do with the House of Soviets? A renovation seems beyond the realm of possibility. It would actually cost less to build an entirely new structure than try to modify the existing one. With this idea in mind, some have went a step further, traveling backward into the future where they re-imagine Königsberg Castle once again taking shape, albeit in a new form. There have been plans to rebuild the castle with modern additions that could be used for commercial enterprises. There is precedent for a successful historical reconstruction in the city. One has to look no further than the Cathedral, which was rebuilt with the help of donations from ethnic Germans. Yet the Cathedral’s core still existed when its rebuilding began, a new castle would have to start from scratch. There are also questions concerning foundations at the site. Another problem is that it has long been rumored that the House of Soviets cannot be destroyed because it is owned by a mysterious figure who will not allow that to happen. If that is true then there is only one question that really needs to be asked: Where is Brezhnev when they need him?

Click here to read From Königsberg to Kaliningrad – Burying Prussia’s Past In Concrete (Part One)

A Temporary Form of Insanity: Viktor Ilyin & the Attempted Assassination of Leonid Brezhnev

It was freezing cold in Moscow on January 22, 1969. The long, hard Russian winter was at its peak. Just outside the gates of the Kremlin a crowd of people stood in the bone chilling cold. They were waiting for the arrival of a motorcade carrying Soviet cosmonauts who had just completed the first ever manned to manned docking of space vehicles in history. The cosmonauts would be traveling from the airport to the Kremlin for a ceremony celebrating their achievement. In the early afternoon, as the sun began its slow descent toward the horizon, the motorcade suddenly appeared. It was supposed to include not only the cosmonauts, but also the leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. Standard operating procedure was for Brezhnev’s vehicle to be the second in line. This time though, the second car, a black Zil limousine was filled with cosmonauts.

Borovitsky Gate - one of the entrances to the Kremlin

Borovitsky Gate – one of the entrances to the Kremlin

Guns in Both Hands
Standing just outside the Kremlin walls, at the Borovitsky gate, was a man dressed in a policeman’s uniform. The man’s name was Viktor Ilyin. He had been in the area for over an hour, figuring out the best place to stand. Strangely, the uniform he wore was a summer one. He must have been freezing. As the cars began to pass, Ilyin suddenly pulled out two Makarov pistols, with one in each hand he let lose a stream of gunfire. The second car was his intended target. Its driver was killed almost instantly, several other passengers were wounded. Reports say that somewhere between eight and sixteen shots were fired. None of these came anywhere near the intended target, Brezhnev was not in the vehicle. His car had taken a different gate into the Kremlin. Ilyin’s shooting spree had done quite a bit of damage, but not to the man he wished to assassinate. A guard on a motorcycle spotted the assassin and ran him down. Ilyin then proceeded to have a seizure. The incident was over in a matter of minutes.

A photo of the Brezhnev assassination attempt made just seconds after it happened

A photo of the Brezhnev assassination attempt made just seconds after it happened

A Monopoly On Violence
One barely noticed, but notable aspect in the history of the Soviet Union was that none of its leaders was ever assassinated. Despite the Soviet state’s history of violence and suppression (or perhaps because of it) every one of its leaders died of natural causes. The lack of an assassination may have been largely due to the fact that the state had a monopoly on violence. For instance, during the period of Stalin’s rule, when state controlled terror was rampant, tens of millions of Soviet citizens were killed. Conversely, there was only one known assassination attempt on Stalin that came even remotely close.

Some of the most dangerous times for the seven men who led the Soviet Union took place in the years before they gained supreme power. The tsarist regime imprisoned or exiled both Lenin and Stalin. A more energetic state security apparatus would never have allowed either of them to see the light of day again. Especially after multiple arrests for conspiracies to overthrow the government. Rather than receiving the death penalty (as Lenin’s brother did) they were shipped off, either to Siberia or forced into foreign exile. Lenin was almost assassinated after he came to power in the chaotic early years following the revolution. A 1918 attempt by a female socialist came close, but failed. Khrushchev and Brezhnev escaped Stalin’s purges by helping carry them out. In this way, they saved themselves from the fate of thousands of other fellow Communist Party members. Andropov and Chernenko also managed to avoid the various Stalinist purges during their early years in politics. As for Gorbachev, he came late enough to the scene that the worse excesses of the system were a memory.

Leonid Brezhnev - the target (Credit: Bundearchiv)

Leonid Brezhnev – the target (Credit: Bundearchiv)

The Limits of Dissent
It seems that a state such as the Soviet Union would have executed anyone who had attempted an assassination of its leader. This would certainly have been true during Lenin and Stalin’s time, but by the time Brezhnev had come to power the system of repression was more benign. The state now committed dissidents to mental institutions. This would be Ilyin’s fate. Only a few hours after his attempt on Brezhnev’s life, Ilyin was interviewed by the head of the KGB and future Soviet leader Yuri Andropov. The upshot of Andropov’s interrogation was that Ilyin was declared insane. Whether Ilyin was insane or not is open to question yet he did have a logical line of reasoning that supported his action. He had been conscripted into the Soviet army against his will in 1968. That same year Brezhnev made the decision to send Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia to put down the Prague Spring and voices calling for greater freedoms. Ilyin vehemently disagreed with this decision. He ended up deserting the Soviet army, then then making his way from St. Petersburg to Moscow where he would carry out the assassination attempt.

A Temporary Form of Insanity
Whether or not Ilyin’s attempt on the life of Brezhnev was insane is subjective, but one of his ideas was definitely crazy. Ilyin believed that once Brezhnev was dead, that he, Viktor Ilyin, would lead a new moderate government. Obviously this never occurred. Instead he was sentenced to twenty years of solitary confinement in a mental asylum. In 1990, a Supreme Court ruling took place in Ilyin’s bed chamber, he was soon a free man. He is still alive today, living in a small flat in his hometown of St. Petersburg. The apartment was provided by the government since Ilyin is considered disabled. He also receives a small pension. His situation today is so normal that it almost defies believability.

How can a man who tried to murder one of the most powerful people in the world, the leader of the world’s prime totalitarian state at the time, eventually be set free? Many people disappeared in the Soviet Union for lesser crimes, even during Brezhnev’s day. Chalk up Ilyin gaining his freedom to the insanity plea. Also by 1990 the Soviet state was much milder due to Gorbachev’s reforms. Ilyin may or may not have been insane, perhaps it was temporary. The truly insane thing is that Viktor Ilyin became a free man and would outlive not only his oppressors, but also the oppressive Soviet state.

The Last Bolshevik – Konstantin Chernenko: The Sick Man of Europe

From 1917 until 1991 seven different men were the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union. These men were at the pinnacle of the Communist party apparatus and exercised power over one of the world’s greatest land mass. Four of these leaders are well known for better or worse (usually the latter). These four can be easily named by the historically minded. They are Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Two others are well known among Cold War history buffs, Brezhnev and Andropov. That leaves one who is almost invisible to history, the grey man of a secretive society.

Konstantin Chernenko - the opposite of inspiration

Konstantin Chernenko – the opposite of inspiration

Communism In Human Form
The name Konstantin Chernenko does not bring any lasting historical image to mind. For that matter, the name hardly brings anything to mind. Chernenko had the shortest reign of any Soviet ruler, lasting a mere thirteen months at the helm. Some historians call Chernenko, “The Last Bolshevik.” This is because he is viewed as the last of the old order, those communists who were symbolic of the rigidity, corruption and ossification of the Soviet Union’s final decades. A look at Chernenko definitely fits that image. In photos taken of him during the time he led the nation, he looks elderly, dull and uninspiring. That’s probably because he was. Communism in the Soviet Union died a slow death in its final two decades. The human personification of that decay was Chernenko.

Chernenko & Brezhnev – The Road To Gloom
Who was Konstantin Chernenko? In line with his frosty visage, Chernenko was born in the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia in 1911, the son of a poor miner. Growing up in poverty, Chernenko took advantage of the one real opportunity for advancement during that time, getting involved with the Communist Party. At the age of 18 he became a member of the Communist Youth League. He was soon a full member of the party. Chernenko built a career in party propaganda. He worked in the typical Soviet organizations such as the House of Party Enlightenment. Chernenko managed to ascend the party ranks while avoiding the deadly Stalinist purges of the 1930’s. It helped that he was working in the east part of the country during some of the worst excesses of the system.

It is probably no surprise that an individual as dull, grey and stolid as Chernenko received his first major career advancement due to his friendship with a man cut from the same cloth. Leonid Brezhnev, the embodiment of Soviet style gloom and corruption chose Chernenko to head the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic’s propaganda efforts in the late 1940’s. From that point until Brezhnev’s death in 1982, Chernenko’s career trajectory closely followed that of his political patron. By the mid-1950’s, they were in Moscow together, where a decade later, Brezhnev would replace the deposed Nikita Khrushchev as Supreme Leader of the Soviet Union.

Sign Here - Konstantin Chernenko's signature style

Sign Here – Konstantin Chernenko’s signature style

A Signature Style
The Brezhnev years cast a light on the shadowy career of the prototypically dull Chernenko. What was the gray man’s job during these years? Well in an extremely centralized state apparatus, Chernenko made sure it stayed that way. He set the agenda for interminable Politburo sessions. He signed papers, literally tens of thousands. In the bureaucratic morass that was the Soviet system, Chernenko was the ultimate bureaucrat. For over twenty years he put his signature on hundreds of documents each day. Even after he took the helm as supreme leader, Chernenko would continue to sign the documents as he had done for far too long as head of the bland sounding General Department. Whereas Stalin and Lenin had the blood of millions on their hands, Chernenko’s were covered with ink. All of this was done in the service of mind numbing decrees and resolutions. The Soviet Union and the communist system may not have had the cure for civilization’s ills, but they had cultivated the ultimate cure for insomnia.

A Phenomenon of Frailty
All the while, Chernenko carried on an exceedingly unhealthy lifestyle. He was a chain smoker, an addiction that was said to have begun at the tender age of nine. By the time he took power, Chernenko was a physician’s worst nightmare. His ailments included emphysema, pulmonary disease and heart failure. At the funeral of his predecessor Yuri Andropov, he was barely able to read the eulogy. On that same day at Lenin’s Mausoleum he had to take an escalator rather than stairs to the top. After the ceremony was over, Chernenko’s bodyguards were reduced to protecting their frail leader, not from would be assassins, but from a slip or a fall. They had to help him back down the escalator. He spent much of his time as leader suffering from an amazing variety of illnesses. If it was not bronchitis, it was pneumonia or pleurisy or cirrhosis of the liver. Somehow Chernenko kept on living. The man was as much a phenomenon as he was an individual, a staggering, stuttering, stumbling example of the sclerotic Soviet system.

His most notable achievement while in office was the announcement that the Soviet’s would boycott the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. It was a foolish and petulant act designed to exact symbolic revenge on the United States for boycotting the 1980 Moscow Olympics. In place of tet a tet’s between Chernenko and the president of the United States, there were tit for tat’s. That the sickly Chernenko could even engage in such foolishness was miraculous.

The Long Goodbye - Chernenko strikes a pose

The Long Goodbye – Chernenko strikes a pose

The Sickest of Them All
Finally, mercifully, during the late winter of 1985, the death defying Chernenko approached his final moment. By this point it was a tossup whether he would succumb to emphysema, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver or hepatitis. It turned out to be a combination of all four. Within hours his successor, Mikhail Gorbachev was announced, offering proof that Chernenko had long since been given up for dead. Ironically, the Soviet papers announced Gorbachev’s ascension to power on their front pages, while Chernenko’s death notice took a backseat on page two. Conversely, the New York Times placed both events on the front page. Chernenko had ceased to be of importance to the Soviet Union, while still being at least symbolically respected in the western world.

The Soviet system outlasted Chernenko by another seven years. It had been able to survive frailty in the leadership for nearly a decade. The last several years of Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko were characterized more by illness than anything else. These were the sick men of Europe and Chernenko was the sickest of them all. He had been neither a reformer nor much of a hardliner, he had just been there, barely able to breathe, let alone rule. His role was to keep the seat lukewarm. Interestingly, what the Soviet Union was unable to survive was the reform minded and progressive Mikhail Gorbachev. His energetic leadership was finally put the Soviet Union to rest.

Gray Men in Gray Suits – The Long Lives of Communist Leaders

Think of Leonid Brezhnev, his tenure as head of the Soviet Union makes him the leader of what I shall call the “Gray Men.” These were the leaders of the Warsaw Pact nations whose most notable achievement was how long they stayed in power. Words such as rigid, stolid, and geriatric come to mind as their defining characteristics. Those terms pretty much sum up the popular persona of Brezhnev. He looked the very essence of frosty, remote and ossified. Incredibly, Brezhnev was not even close to being the longest serving Warsaw Pact head of state. He took over as leader of the Soviet Union when Nikita Khrushchev was ousted in 1964, staying in power until 1982 (18 years). In true communist fashion, during his final years, the Soviet state claimed the increasingly haggard Brezhnev was not suffering ill health, even though he was surrounded by a cadre of physicians. No one it seems ever got out of the Communist party alive.

Leonid Brezhnev in color

Leonid Brezhnev – One of the original Grey Men in color
(Credit: National Archives)

For the Soviets and their allies the ideas of progress and innovation, at least on a leadership level, were anathema. The lone time during the Cold War when the Soviets tried some new blood at the top resulted in the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev. And look how that turned out! It seems that the communists valued stability (read: status quo) above all else. Reform was a dirty word. Looking at the outcome of the Gorbachev era from a communist’s perspective, they certainly had a right to be fearful.  So they resisted reform, turn over at the top or anything else that might be construed as progressive. And as the Soviets went, so their satellites followed. That brings us to a group of men who can best be characterized by their long goodbyes, too long. These were leaders who wore out their welcome long ago and in some cases they never were welcomed.

The Gray Men
East Germany – The title “General Secretary” was a byword for being the leading dictator of a dictatorial government. The top leadership post in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party. Look out for any government that has democratic or people’s as part of its official name. That usually means they feel compelled to shoot their citizens. Walter Ulbricht held onto the top post in the GDR for over two decades 1950 – 1971 (20 years 10 months). Ulbricht survived the Stalin era, but not the Brezhnev one. He was retired “due to poor health.” In other words, he fell out of favor with the Soviets. Ironically, his inability to build a better relationship with West Germany did him in. Wasn’t the west supposed to be their enemies? Following his ouster, Ulbricht had scarcely two years of life left in him. We have to give Ulbricht some kudos though for his goatee. He looked rather suave in comparison to almost all of his fellow travelers in the Warsaw Pact. On the other hand, the powerful head of the Soviet Union’s NKVD (precursor to the KGB), Lavrenti Beria is reputed to have called Ulbricht “the greatest idiot he had ever seen.”

Poland –
Wladyslaw Gomulka was First Secretary of the Polish United Worker’s Party (note: United or Unity is another communist code word for we have shot or imprisoned all dissenters) from 1956 until 1970 (14 years and two months). This was the second time he had been put in charge of the country. The first was in the immediate aftermath of World War II from 1945 to 1948. He fell out of favor after that and spent his time like so many other communist leaders before and after him learning about life in prison. Riots and strikes brought Gomulka back to power and over a decade later would bring him down as well. In 1956 he took charge after a near revolution broke out in Poznan over economic conditions. Gomulka immediately raised wages, alleviated food shortages and instituted other popular measures which staved off unrest. Unfortunately what became known as “Gomulka’s thaw” suffered from a deep freeze in the 1960’s. An ill wind blew in from the east that caused him and his nation to chill out. He put into place increasingly repressive measures basically because the Soviet’s told him to do so. The man who had once been known for cultivating a “Polish Way of Socialism” was brought down when shipyard strikes turned bloody on the Baltic. This would not be the last time that shipyards played a prominent role in defying communism in Poland. Gomulka, in an ominous precursor to what would happen to Ulbricht less than six months later, was removed for “health reasons” in December 1971. The strange thing is that Gomulka lived another twelve years following his removal. Even stranger, he did have health problems. In 1970, it seems he had suffered a stroke.

Czechoslovakia – Gustav Hasek rose to the helm of Czechoslovakia following the Soviet Invasion of his country in 1968. He would rule for 14 years, 1969 – 1987 (18 years, 8 months).  He was put in charge of “Normalization.” Well if I am sure of one thing, it is that Hasek craved “Normalization.” You would to, if you had been imprisoned by both fascist and communist governments multiple times in the 1940’s and 50’s. This had included a sentence of life imprisonment for “bourgeouis nationalism.” The majority of the years Hasek spent in prison were decreed by his own party, the one he would come to lead. Of course, this being communism, where forwards was so often backwards and vice versa, Hasek was rehabilitated in 1963. This started his rise to power. Hasek’s greatest feat may well have been gaining his nation’s supreme position despite being a Slovak, in a nation dominated economically, politically and intellectually by Czechs. Then again with the post- communist breakup of the Czechoslovak state into two separate nations who’s going to remember that. For that matter who will remember Hasek. That’s what he gets for being so “normal.”

Hungary – Janos Kadar was installed by the Soviets in the aftermath of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. He willingly carried out Soviet orders to imprison or execute all dissenters. He did this over the next couple of years without a hint of remorse. He was the most hated man in Hungary. And yet Kadar would last a remarkable three decades in power, 1956 – 1988 (31 years, 7 months). By the time he was forced into retirement (those nebulous “health reasons” yet again) Kadar had rejigged the Hungarian state into a relatively liberal economy, where travel abroad was allowed. In 1989 the Hungarians were by far, the best suited of all the Warsaw Pact nations for a transition to capitalism. How did he do it? It is said that a Hungarian can enter a revolving door behind you and come out ahead without you even noticing. Kadar was a methodical magician who made haste slowly, a magician of incrementalism. He took the country one teeny, tiny step at a time, towards what became known as “Goulash Communism.” Hungary was an Eastern Bloc-oxymoron: state run socialism with western living standards.  Perhaps the best way of understanding Kadar, can be summed up by his most famous saying, “those who are not against us, are for us.”

Romania  – Nicolae Ceausescu was the opposite of Kadar. He started off relatively well regarded only to end up being one of the most reviled world leaders ever. Romania actually had a higher standard of living than Hungary during the early years of his reign. His initial moves relaxed strictures and boosted the people’s confidence in his leadership.  But then he went mad or maybe he was always mad, perhaps it just took years of absolute power surrounded by fawning acolytes to exacerbate his penchant for megalomania, stupidity and cruelty. Ceausescu was at the pinnacle of power from 1965 – 1989 (24 years, 9 months). His final decade of rule was among the worst for any developed country in European history. He obliterated several centuries worth of rich culture and architecture as an historic neighborhood was wiped away in central Bucharest to cleanse the capital for the building of his magnum opus, a sterile monstrosity known as the Palace of the Parliament. Still the world’s second largest building, it has hundreds of rooms the majority of which are of such a size that they can swallow several football pitches. Much of the country’s output went towards this and other grand projects that were fathomable only to a madman. What wasn’t expended on such “public works” went to paying off the nation’s large foreign debt. Every financial resource was marshaled towards an effort that would liberate Romania from its creditors. By 1989 the debt was down to zero. As a gift for all he had done, Ceausescu and his wife Elena were arrested for crimes against the people, given a show trial, then taken out and summarily executed on Christmas Day.

                                                                                          Leader of Bulgaria from 1954 - 1989
                         Todor Zhivkov – The Ultimate Gray Man
(Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B0115-0010-066 / Schaar, Helmut / CC-BY-SA)

Bulgaria – Todor Zhivkov lasted longer than almost anyone and hardly anyone even knows his name. Then again, perhaps that’s the reason Todor Zhivkov lasted longer than anyone. Zhivkov was the ultimate gray man. He rose to power not long after Stalin’s death. From 1954 through 1989 (35 years, 8 months) Zhivkov ruled Bulgaria from the shadows not of his countrymen, but the Soviet Union. He made his nation a mere appendage of the Soviets. This brought the Bulgars oil, electricity and anonymity. Marching in lockstep with the Soviets, Zhivkov ended up creating a thirty-five year plan for his homeland, which consisted of mass industrialization and collectivization. Concrete blocks to house the rural flight sprouted all the way from the Balkan Range to the Black Sea. Zhivkov had staying power, but even he could not escape history. He lasted only one day longer after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His country was through with him, but Zhivkov was not through with life. He lived another eight years and even was acquitted for embezzling government funds. His funeral was said to be well attended, I wonder if many of them just came to see whether he was finally leaving.

Albania – Enver Hoxha we hardly knew you. Thank goodness for that, if only Albania could say the same. Hoxha created what has been termed a “hermit state.” He ruled from the next to last year of World War II up until the last decade of the Cold War, 1944 through 1985 (40 years, 6 months). During that time, he fell in and out of love with all of his allies, basically making the whole world an enemy.  His paranoia was all consuming. He pockmarked his country’s landscape with concrete bunkers that were supposed to protect his nation from a foreign invasion, but instead became love bunkers where scores of Albanians consummated their romance. The country averaged one bunker for every four of its citizens. Hoxha brings to mind one simple and brutally elusive question: Why? Perhaps it was just another form of communism, with an Albanian twist. Nobody deserves this much madness. His homeland could have hardly done worse and when his heart finally failed in 1985 that wasn’t nearly as surprising as the fact that he had a heart at all.

The regime of Enver Hoxha had 750,000 bunkers constructed in Albania to defend the country

Bunker in Albanian Alps – Hoxha’s Legacy (By Elian Stefa, Gyler Mydyti (Concrete Mushrooms Project)