Michail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev was not a man of grand gestures, nor an orator who could move the masses. But he single-handedly changed the world to a more peaceful place, at least for a few short years. He was undone by the greed for power of those that didn’t understand him, nor appreciated the magnitude of what he wanted to achieve.

Even his biographer, William Taubman, failed to adequately explain how it was possible for a man of pacifist leanings, a true believer in socialism (but not in Stalin or communist dogma) managed to survive and eventually thrive in the Soviet system of distrust and division. He survived the aggressions of Nikita Khrushchev and the oppressive ways of Leonid Brezhnev, and continued his slow ascendancy to the top job as general secretary in 1985.

Without him (and US president Ronald Reagan) the nuclear arms race would have continued for much longer. Without him, the demise of the Soviet Union would still have happened, but most likely with bloodshed on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Without him, the Berlin Wall would not have come down in 1989. Without him and the Chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, who knows if and when Germany unification might have happened.

And without the CIA failing to understand what Gorbachev wanted to achieve, cautioning President George H.W. Bush that the Soviet Union would never change, Gorbachev may well have been able to do more.

He never claimed to be a great reformer, but he truly loved his people and he wanted a better life for them. He saw power as a means to an end, not as a means to accumulate personal wealth, unlike his successors. Ironically, he was able to be quite an effective reformer because nobody dared to oppose the leader in a country that has never known anything but absolute obedience to its emperor, empress, tsar, general secretary of the Communist Party or President (for life) Vladimir Putin.

Until he came along, the last leader to show any kind of compassion and interest in the people of Russia, was Empress Elizabeth in the mid-18th century! Yet, Gorbachev is not particularly popular in Russia, the respect for his legacy is largely a Western “phenomenon”.

Maybe he should have done what Stalin did, erecting vainglorious monuments to himself. Instead, Gorbachev’s monument will be in the hearts of anyone who wishes for an end to the tragedies that continue to afflict the Russian people and their neighbours.

In a century that was marked by endless conflicts and power struggles, with so many leaders unable or unwilling to change the path of destruction even after the horrors of two world wars, Gorbachev stood out. For six short years, he gave us hope.

Rest in Peace Gorby.



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