Michael Gorbachev - Hero or Loser?

Posted in Russia | 23-Jun-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The Empire Soviet Union has gone

Fifteen years ago, Michael Gorbachev would have been elected president in many Western countries if he had been eligible. There was the outbreak of “Gorbimania” whenever and wherever “Gorbi” appeared. In the West he was considered to be a hero and still is for many.

His image in his home country is quite different. The demise of the “Soviet Empire” and the Warsaw Pact, German reunification within NATO, the loss of most former Soviet republics to the West, the events in Ukraine – just to name some facts – have changed the former acceptance of Michael Gorbachev into harsh critique in the Russia of today.

Gorbachev is blamed for having sold the former superpower to the West for nothing. Many Russians regard the ante-Gorbachev era as the “golden days.” This nostalgia is reinforced by the severe domestic problems that Russia faces today.

In Russia, there is a minority of winners and a majority of losers as far as social and financial status are concerned. Putin has turned Russia into a very centralized “autocracy” with suppression of the media, without independent administration of justice, the war in Chechnya, hardship for the poor and weak as well as a decreasing and increasingly elderly population. The “new rich” can be met in all attractive places around the world showing their financial capabilities. With the “Red Army” in decline, energy is the only tool that Russia possesses to safeguard its status as being a regional power.

In the eyes of many Russians, the price tag for Michael Gorbachev's policy of “glasnost” and “perestroika” is unacceptably high. Many people forget that the Soviet Union with and without Gorbachev had no chance to survive as a superpower for a mix of reasons: Economic decline, a costly military industrial complex, a quest for freedom and democracies, the impossibility to govern the Eurasian continent from Moscow, the widening gap with Western high-tech industry and the treatment of minorities. Through his policy, Michael Gorbachev left the genie out of the bottle and no one was able to put it back. Without his policy, the Cold War would not have come to an end without shots having been fired.

It is quite understandable that this effect is judged differently in the West than it is in Russia. Our author, Professor Dmitry Shlapentokh, born in Russia and living in the United States draws a very critical line under the twenty years with and without Michael Gorbachev at the helm of the former Soviet Union and his legacy.