Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

Most Westerners may be surprised by the depth of the emotions the average Russian attaches to Gorbachev. You may hear “His vision ended the Cold War” or “He destroyed my country!” Most spit his name with out with total distain. Perhaps he’s a Rorschach test for Russians… what the blot looks like says more about the observer than it does Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.

The Soviet people did enjoy a few benefits that Westerners never had: No matter what, you would always have a home and you would have a job. Most Russians (OK, most of the few I know) look back on the CCCP with nostalgia. People would leave their doors unlocked and there was a sense of community. 

Everybody does it. We pine for the good ole days through rose colored glasses. Andy, Barney, and all our friends in Mayberry lead lives just like we used to. Except the whole thing is fiction. Take Our Country Back! The battle cry of Trumpers desperate to keep Muslims out and the old ways alive. 

It’s a common reframe heard around the world. A vision of an old Soviet Union that was nothing like what many Russians falsely believe Gorby broke.

Anyone who doesn’t regret the passing of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants it restored has no brains.

Vladimir Putin

There is a certain path that history follows. Mikhail may have fancied himself as a leader forging the future and that’s true but only in that he was able to nibble around the edges. The Soviet Union didn’t collapse because of Gorbachev, it would have anyway. But it is fair to give him credit for a more or less peaceful change in our shared course. Someone besides Gorbachev may well have sent the Red Army to a number of CIS States and succeeded in prolonging the Union for a few years. At the cost of blood & wars.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev

So Happy Birthday, Mikhail Gorbachev (2, March 1931), people my age with my accent owe you a great deal. You will never get the credit within your own country for what you accomplished. And if I had one single birthday wish for you, it would be that you receive the recognition you rightly deserve from your own people.

The irony here is that most of the negative vile hurled at you is misplaced. Yes, there is someone who changed the course of history in a way you, Ronald, & Margret didn’t intend. The world we live in now could have been so much better if Bill Clinton had stepped up. After the CCCP split, Russia needed food, material, and even money. But Clinton had domestic politics and at that time the Republican Party was hard-core anti Russian. So he did nothing; which set in motion the events we see today. Death in Syria, Dumbass, and Armenia. I do not know if it will be Baltic Republics or the new Chinese City of Vladivostok next, but we can be sure Bill Clinton’s most lasting gift will continue to give and Gorbachev will continue to get the blame, at least inside Russia.

The lessons of World Wars I & II and China’s Century of Humiliation have not been learned: When a major nation crashes, do not allow its people to suffer and resentment over the past to fester. They will turn to a strong leader and a powerful military. Now, people will die.

Photograph of Dean Lewis

How much better would the world be today if Russia and The United States had returned to the friendship they enjoyed before the revolution? Half the wars on the planet now would never have started and I believe we would all live better lives. Our collective failure to follow Gorbachev’s path has left us all a lesser people. Gorby got the blame for our lack of vision.

Mikhail Gorbachev: the dawn of a new Russia 

This man has done truly fundamental, unthinkable ever before, changes to my country. Good changes. I’m very grateful for this. When Boris Yeltsin took power after him, he made the second step transforming Russia into better place though those two men, two statesmen, didn’t like each other, to say the least. 

Gorbachev was the first ‘normal’ Soviet leader unlike many god-like bloody assholes that usually have been ruining the country, dating almost a millennium back. What once was in 1985 and then  became in 1991 are two different countries, light years away from each other. 

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev Time Magazine Cover

True, he didn’t want to dismantle the Soviet Union and he, surely, has committed no treason. It wasn’t his fault that the USSR has broken up in December 1991. It was History. It was more like that Ronald Reagan told about him: Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t understand the driving force of his country. He meant that basically when Gorbachev took fear out of the Soviet construction model, the whole building just went down in flames. 

Yes, he took fear out and it did change the country at the price of the state: the Soviet regime. The truth is: the Soviet Union was built on this thing: he couldn’t get it. God only knows what would happen to the USSR if he did. Surely, Putin regrets the fall of the Soviet Russia. I don’t.

My generation has gotten so many various opportunities to live, to work, to exist in a new reality, in an absolutely new environment. 

The man has set out a new era even if he wanted to only rectify things in the USSR. But things went out of control: no man would done something different. He had to resign and then managed to continue living a normal life that is unthinkable in the Russian political tradition. I don’t imagine Putin becoming an ordinary citizen: he will either rule forever or go to jail soon after his exit.  

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

He’s cursed by many and he’s prayed for by many.  

I don’t do both. I just personally thank you, Mikhail Sergeevich, for what you did: opening doors to the world and making my country a normal country. This is irreversible. 

Happy Birthday Gorby

This man remains one of my great heroes. I wrote about my feelings just over two years ago in this very blog – Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was the person I most wanted to have interviewed. And so I do not apologise for writing a very similar essay this time.

I found it astonishing that having been brought up during the Cold War, he was the first leader of the old USSR who made me feel safe. The first leader that didn’t look like he was already 90 years old, as he is today, and ready to flake out. The first leader that, instead of promoting hate and vitriol at western powers, actually did something practical to help make the world a bit of a better place. 

And someone who, although I didn’t know him of course, seemed like a rather nice bloke. And a Russian leader to boot!

Photo by Yousuf Karsh

It makes me wonder how a man who worked on collective farms in his early years, from a poor working class family, ended up studying law at Moscow State University.

I find it equally enthralling that as Russian leader, his policies of glasnost and perestroika effectively helped end the Cold War. For someone brought up on traditional communist ideology, how did that happen?

Of course, it is convenient to blame him for the breakup of the USSR, but to most of us on the outside, it’s the best thing ever to have happened.

So, he may have been responsible for the collapse of the Empires of the Soviets, but all I can say is well done man. I regard you as one of the greatest reformers of the 20th century. When you, Reagan and Thatcher got together, I have never felt so safe in all my life. I will never forget that feeling. And for that, young man, I salute you. You were a real human being whilst in power, and you did what you thought best for your country, which benefitted so many.

Roger Bara

Gorby, thanks a lot mate. Happy birthday! And may you celebrate many more.