Soviet leaders took 'rejuvenating' pills, records show

April 08, 1994|By Hearst Newspapers

PARIS -- Leonid I. Brezhnev and other members of the Soviet Union's geriatric leadership, many of whom were ailing, regularly took a secret "rejuvenating" pill in the 1970s and '80s that was not only supposed to keep them going but make them more youthful.

Official archives just published by the newspaper Moscow News reveal that the masters of the Kremlin during the final decades of the Soviet empire lived in a Byzantine atmosphere in which medical quackery and superstition were the order of the day.

Historian Peter Bogdanov, a specialist in Soviet history at Paris University, said the documents make clear that this obsession with miraculous cures contributed to the political paralysis and economic stagnation that were soon to destroy the communist system.

"The stark truth is that a system ostensibly based on immutable scientific theories of economics and sociology was being run by credulous ignoramuses willing to believe in any old wives' tale to prolong their own lives," Mr. Bogdanov said.

By 1980, about 1,000 top party and government officials were taking the rejuvenating capsule, according to the documents.

The papers suggest that the steadily deteriorating Mr. Brezhnev, suffering from hardening of the arteries and possibly Alzheimer's disease, had been unfit to govern as early as the mid-1970s.

"The determination to keep him alive and conceal his infirmities became the chief concern of other Kremlin politicians, practically to the exclusion of everything else, including running the country," Mr. Bogdanov said.

"They didn't want him to die until they could be assured that they and not their rivals would succeed him. As a result, anyone who claimed to have found the secret of rejuvenation and long life exercised a great influence within the Kremlin."

The one with the greatest influence apparently was Djuna Davitachvili, who, although holding no medical degree, was healer-in-chief to Mr. Brezhnev and other elderly members of the leadership for more than 10 years.

She kept her job even though her patients kept dying.

According to the archives, she relied on a timed-release capsule that was said to contain an "autonomous stimulator" giving off impulses identical to those naturally transmitted by the brain of a young, robust person. These artificial brain waves were supposed to help regenerate body tissue and vital organs.

This was taken seriously not only by Mr. Brezhnev but apparently also by his successor, Yuri Andropov, who was already seriously ill with kidney disease when he became leader. He died only two years afterward in 1984.

The suspicion is that Ms. Davitachvili was a tool of Red Army commanders, who used her to strengthen their political hand.

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