Legacy of last Soviet leader

(RIA Novosti political commentator Stepan Orlov.)

On March 2, the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, celebrated his 75th birthday.

He was the first Soviet politician of the high-tech era. Before him Soviet policy was couched in a thick veil of secrecy and seemed bleak and boring for that reason. Gorbachev added color to the traditional “bulldog fighting” behind the scenes. He gathered all those who wanted democracy and led them into the virtual space of television. Gorbachev created glasnost and glasnost created Gorbachev. In the end, it destroyed him when it transpired that there were better speakers than him, and that words should be matched by deeds. Gradually, the first one turned into the last one.

Elected president of the U.S.S.R. at a congress of deputies, Gorbachev never received millions of votes. He tried to form his own Social-Democratic party and become Russia’s president, but to no avail.

“The process is unfolding” – this hearty phrase, which became a brand in the middle of perestroika, earned Gorbachev a line in history. Gorbachev was generally a man of processes rather than results, even though his background and education should have made him a rational advocate of stability. His homeland, the Stavropol territory, was a hotbed of resistance to the Bolsheviks in the Civil War. Seventy years later it became a bastion of hardliners’ opposition to reforms, including Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Gorbachev is a reformer. But what kind of reformer is he? With whom can he be compared? Regrettably, these are rhetorical questions everywhere but not in Russia. Judging by his international prizes, he is a man of the magnitude of Martin Luther King, Churchill and Tsar David. Berlin, Florence and Dublin have given him a title of freeman. He is an honorary scholar of 27 foreign universities and colleges.  

Why isn’t he recognized in Russia? Do people here have a different opinion of his life and reforms?

Probably, the whole of Russia (except his closest soul-mates) unanimously believes that Gorbachev with his inadequate education was not quite up for the job, and could not befittingly parry the challenges which befell the U.S.S.R during his time, be it in the economy, culture, ideology, relations between nations, and simply between people.

But Gorbachev succeeded in winning the personal benevolence of Western politicians and intellectuals. The general secretary, who got a sweet nickname of Gorbi, became an instantly recognizable symbol of the U.S.S.R just like sputnik, ballet or figure skating. His biggest achievement – the unification of Germany – has won him Europe’s eternal gratitude. It is no surprise that Helmut Kohl happily accepted Gorbachev’s invitation to come to Moscow for his 75th birthday, whereas George Bush Sr. and the Iron Lady from the British Isles, Margaret Thatcher, politely turned it down.  

It is not ruled out that in the future the Russians will give credit to Gorbachev for the unification of Germany. As a result, the East-West atmosphere started to warm up, and Russia began to break the Cold War blockade. It shook off the burden of paying for the buffer Communist camp and concentrated on its own affairs for the first time in many years.

But people in Russia have not grasped this yet. They believe that if Gorbachev were smarter, in addition to reuniting Germany, he would have kept intact his own country.

Having failed to use the opportunity of democracy he himself revived to life, Gorbachev supports the policy of President Vladimir Putin. He said: “Putin has saved the nation from chaos.”

But everyone understands that Russia today is very different from Gorbachev’s Soviet Union. –0-