Life is not easy for the offspring of dictators. Look at Gaddafi’s kids, who are either dead, in prison or in exile. Bashar al-Assad would have been an ophthalmologist if his elder brother hadn’t died. But now he has to kill thousands or be killed himself. Even Kim Jong-un, allegedly the supreme overlord of 24 million North Koreans looks vaguely terrified by the awesome responsibility of carrying on the family tradition of EVIL.
It’s not always easier for children who don’t get near actual power. Consider the case of Russia in the 20th century. For seventy years the country was ruled by authoritarian strongmen; all of them bar Lenin had children, and many of those “Kremlin kids” led deeply unhappy lives.
Stalin’s eldest son Yakov was a tormented soul. After a failed suicide attempt he joined the Red Army, only to be captured by the Germans in World War II. Stalin refused a proposed prisoner swap, and Yakov killed himself by running into an electrified fence. The novelist Milan Kundera claims the last straw for Yakov was a dispute with fellow prisoners over a dirty toilet.
Stalin’s younger son Vasily liked drink, women, sports, and killing Nazis. After his father’s death however, he was accused of treachery and sentenced to eight years in prison, where he worked as a mechanic. Upon his release he was exiled to Kazan, where he successfully drank himself to death in 1962, aged 40.
Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, the apple of the tyrant’s eye, had a string of marriages and affairs before defecting to the West in 1967. She denounced the Soviet regime, wrote her memoirs, changed her name, and got religion. In 1984 she returned to the USSR and tried living in Georgia but fought with relatives. She returned to the U.S. two years later, and died last November.
Stalin was a monster: the amazing thing would be if his children had not been miserable. His successor Nikita Khrushchev was human, but he ended his career in disgrace, and - according to his grandson - spent much of his retirement crying. He seems to have been a relatively good father: most of his five children went on to have successful careers in the USSR, while his highly qualified engineer son Sergei moved to the U.S. in 1991, subsequently becoming a citizen.
When it comes to Khrushchev’s eldest son Leonid, however it’s a different story. After a rambunctious youth he fathered a child by a woman who was not his wife; and yet he seems to have distinguished himself as a heroic pilot in World War II. After accidentally killing a sailor he was sentenced to 8 years at the front, and disappeared in 1943 while on a combat mission, never to be seen again (later rumors would circulate he had defected to the Germans, only to be kidnapped and murdered on Stalin’s orders).
The most notorious Kremlin kid was Galina Brezhneva, daughter and female doppelganger of the man with the most celebrated eyebrows of the 20th century. Galina was wild, passionate, spoiled and had expensive taste - she liked jewels, fur coats, alcohol and, er, male circus performers. Her first husband, Yevgeny Milaev, was an acrobat; she left him for Igor Kio, a celebrated illusionist. Her parents made her marry a Soviet General, but she had affairs with a Latvian ballet dancer named Maris Liepa and then a singer called Boris Buryatsa, who made thousands selling Bolshoi Theater tickets on the black market. In 1982 however Buryatsa was arrested for stealing diamonds from the home of a famous lion tamer, and sent to prison where he died in 1987. Galina retreated to her father’s apartment where she spent the years after his death drinking and partying, until her daughter had her consigned to a mental ward where she died, aged 69, in 1998.
Brezhnev’s son Yury was more secretive. He still lives, but is rumored to have been a chronic alcoholic by the time Chernenko took office.
Yury Andropov, a man who had ice in his veins, also had trouble with one of his kids. While most of his children were respectable members of society, he concealed the existence of his eldest son, Vladimir, who had spent time in prison for pick-pocketing, and who ended his days working in a factory in Moldova. Vladimir died at age 35 of cirrhosis of the liver. Friends recalled that he had a good singing voice and knew all the best prison songs.
But the Kremlin kids who came later started to settle down. None of Konstantin Chernenko’s children were involved in scandals, while Mikhail Gorbachev’s daughter is a doctor and respected public figure. Boris Yeltsin had two daughters: Elena and Tatiana. Elena keeps a very low profile, but Tatiana had a controversial career in the late 90s. She worked as an advisor to her father and, by an amazing coincidence, grew very, very rich.
And that brings us to the present era. Apparently Dmitri Medvedev has a teenage son but I have never seen a picture. As for Vladimir Putin, I remember that when he first came to power it was not unusual to see his wife in the press. His two daughters were shown in only one photo on the then presidential website, from the back. That was it. We never saw them and never heard of them, rumors aside. Given the history of Kremlin kids, that was probably for the best.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.