From the point of view of the world, Gorbachev was undoubtedly a historical and very positive and great figure. He enabled a bloodless and peaceful end to the Cold War, and even in his efforts to preserve the Soviet Union, he hardly used force to save the empire and himself as its leader.
Gorbachev, the first Russian who helped the Czechs to freedom
Yes, Gorbachev was a communist. Even the highest-ranking communist of the Soviet Union and the entire Eastern Bloc. A communist who, until the end of his life, highlighted Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as the antithesis of Stalin’s tyranny. Although the facts speak clearly that Lenin himself was a merciless tyrant.
Even after six years of Gorbachev’s reign, the Soviet Union did not have full democracy, a market economy, not to mention a functioning and prosperous economy.
Nevertheless, Gorbachev has a place in history as the first real reformer of the Soviet empire. A person who didn’t stand in the way of freedom in Central Europe and ultimately even the unification of Germany. And the Soviet Union under his leadership was moving into the mainstream of world politics. Towards the west, from eastern tyranny to a democratizing and increasingly free state.
The fact that the USSR fell apart was not so much the problem of Gorbachev and his policies. But mainly because it was the last colonial empire in the world, different from the British or French only in that most of its colonies were separated from the colonizing Russia by the sea. After all, today’s Russia also remains a reduced colonial empire, which does not bode well for its long-term future.
Europe à la Scholz could be lived with. But the Czechia does not want to
But let’s return to Gorbachev and his strange, even from the point of view of Russia as a state, undignified burial. Its appearance as an almost private event, which will not only be attended by world statesmen, but not even the current President Vladimir Putin will find time for it, is a mirror of where Moscow has moved in the last few years. From a dysfunctional democracy, but still a relatively free state, which guaranteed the Russians a level of freedoms not experienced for a hundred years, to an almost dictatorial regime today.
To a state that imprisons its citizens just for calling the war in Ukraine a war, or dares to compete politically with the current Putin regime with little chance of success.
It is therefore quite understandable that such a state cannot honor Gorbachev with dignity. The man who steered Russia towards freedom. It is true that the Russians still have something left here and there, but even that is inappropriate to remind, because the last islands of freedom are disappearing in today’s wartime Russia faster than the glaciers in the Italian Alps.
Distrust in the government, among people and in oneself
Of course, this does not mean that the majority of ordinary Russians love Gorbachev. The time of his reign quickly turned into a time of scarcity, and the following years were economically much worse than the years of Brezhnev stagnation. And yes, worse than Russia is today with all the sanctions. However, more Russian soldiers are dying in Ukraine today than in Afghanistan, before Gorbachev gave up the war in 1989.
Putin, the opposite of Gorbachev
Therefore, in connection with Gorbachev, the Russian state media today highlight the economic bankruptcy of the USSR and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The disintegration, which I believe history will show, was a blessing for Russia and Russians. It was also thanks to him and thanks to the establishment of cooperation with the West that many Russians could be as well off as they were before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. Today, it is as if the recaptured territory in Ukraine is everything again, something worth tens of thousands of lives, billions worth of damage, the destruction of relations with the West, Russian vassalage to China, not to mention the destruction of freedom.
But Vladimir Putin can probably envy Gorbachev even Saturday’s indignantly modest funeral. Because at the end of the journey that Putin has embarked on in the last six months, he may not have the respect of world statesmen, nor of Russians.