Mikhail Gorbachev was a man of many virtues. He abhorred deceptions and dictatorships. With such aversions in his arsenal of peace, Gorbachev, who died on 30 August at 91, shook the once-invincible Soviet empire of 15 republics. He saw any totalitarian political formation as an anathema. The nonpareil liberator was the last general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985 and a rare President of the Soviet Union in 1990-91. To top it all, he was humane and family-loving. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mikhail-gorbachev-dies-age-91former-soviet-union-communist-leader/
With his vision as his sole weapon, Gorbachev liberated the Soviets from their tyrannical shackles. With Gorbachev dead now, they have lost their soulmate. They will miss for ever the protagonist of their peace and the flag-bearer of their freedom. Who can they turn today to when the same tyrannical forces are rearing their heads again? Sadly, Gorbachev put an end to only the cold war. But, the seeds of future tyrannies remained germinating in the earth below. A peace-loving Gorbachev failed to foresee dictators emerging in the splintered Soviet republics.
Authoritarians Usurping Power
Truly, this is a tragic reflection of our times. Undeniable, the former Soviet republics have given up on Gorbachev’s unique unguents of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reforms). Worse, authoritarians and absolutists have usurped power in many of the republics now. These usurpers are running amok all over the place now with their wonky interpretations of history. Consider Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko for instance. Their emergence is no ordinary matter. Had Gorbachev been alive today, would he have regretted his reforms? https://www.britannica.com/place/Russia/The-Putin-presidency
In fact, Gorbachev launched his reforms not to dissolve the Union, but to bolster it. While attempting to do this, unintentionally he was led to the disintegration of the Union and the demise of the Cold War. In turn, these unintended consequences marked the welcome end of closed doors and conspiracies, intolerance and illiberalism, venom and violence. He would have liked to achieve these anyway.
Reduced Nuclear Fear
Gorbachev was out and out against violence, no questions about this. When the anti-red uprisings rocked Eastern Europe in 1989, Gorbachev, of his own volition, let the Soviet satellites spin out of his control. He could have easily used military force, but he refrained from doing so. Similarly, he was against nuclear proliferation. This tells why he went ahead to sign a nuclear-reduction treaty. Much of the credit for the reduced nuclear fear in Europe today goes to Gorbachev. https://www.cvce.eu/en/collections/unit-content/-/unit/df06517bbabc-451d-baf6-a2d4b19c1c88/de5ef049-acec-4e19-983c-27104320cd2b
This makes him an accidental liberator of Eastern Europe. Impressed, the various components of the Soviet Republic rose up to clamour for independence. Again desisting from using military force, Gorbachev quietly allowed them to reincarnate themselves as independent nations. Clearly, these are eloquent testimonies of his greatness and Putin’s sickly obsession with the undivided Soviet empire.
Was Never Incarcerated
Sick minds are products of corrupt ideologies. However, Gorbachev was neither sick nor corrupt. His thinking was magnanimous, his approach was benevolent and his dealings were above board. No one could blot his reputation with charges of personal enrichment at State’s cost. Gorbachev was personally not well off and he did pizza commercials for a living in the years following his resignation as Soviet Union’s last General Secretary. However, he was rich in his thinking and philosophy. https://www.thedrum.com/news/2022/08/31/the-story-behind-the-1998-mikhail-gorbachev-pizza-hut-commercial
Not surprising Gorbachev remained, until his demise, a rare Soviet politician not to have been incarcerated. We may not be able to say this about Putin’s fate tomorrow. In all probability, when the Russians wake up, sure they will one day, they may charge Putin with an attempt to murder Gorbachev’s legacy. Reeking of lies and fakery, a malodorous Putin is sure to be booted out of the galleries of free-speech champions.
Had he been Alive Today
Freedom and transparency were hallmarks of Gorbachev. Despite the usual temptations of Russian politicians, Gorbachev shunned following any of them. Despite the many hurdles he faced in his pursuit of an open society, he continued to imagine such a society right there on the Soviet land. Had he been alive today, Gorbachev would have ended as the greatest reformer and the strongest statesman of modern Europe.
Luckily for Euopean autocrats, Gorbachev is no more. Autocrats are allergic to free speech. They dread openness and reforms. They are wary of people savouring freedom of choice. This is why autocrats, while lipprofessing free speech and democracy, are hell-bent on carving out partial democracies or absolute autocracies. Though the Soviet empire is dead and gone, many of a similar ilk continue to thrive today.
Gorbachev’s Greatest Legacy
True, the political scenario around the planet is depressing now. Many political formations are deeply rooted in fakery and falsities. Consider China for example. Though Russia is not an economic powerhouse, China is. Russia is working its way up to become a Super Lier, but China is already there. Dissent-hating democracies are proving to be partial democracies. In such a milieu, Gorbachev went hunting for openness in a region traditionally notorious for closed doors. Yet, he achieved significant success. This is the greatest legacy he is leaving behind.
In his text-video tweet on 31 August, Steve Rosenberg, BBC’s Russia editor in Moscow, recalls a poignant moment from his fifth and final 2019 interview with Gorbachev. Rosenberg is seen talking to a sad Gorbachev, who is upset about the reversal of his achievements in the areas of authoritarianism and East-West confrontation.
Recalling his early days at the helm, Gorbachev says: “When I became the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, I travelled to towns and cities across the country to meet people. There was one thing everyone talked about. They said to me: ‘Mikhail Sergeyevich, whatever problems we have, whatever food shortages, don’t worry. We’ll have enough food. We’ll grow it. We’ll manage. Just make sure there’s no war.'” With tears in his eyes by then, Gorbachev continues to say: “I was stunned. That’s how people were. That’s how much they had suffered in the last war.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYVsKoQXATY
After all, Gorbachev was human. He was humane too. He might not have liked to be called an epitome of perfection. Yet, as a family-loving and a conflict-hating politician, he belongs to a rare breed. Seen against today’s war-mongering and hate-propagating politicians, Gorbachev stands dizzyingly tall. His legacy is eternally durable, though his reforms have been reversed. This is Gorbachev’s irreversible achievement.