Gorbachev dead at 91

Originally published at: Gorbachev dead at 91 | Boing Boing


Guardian liveblog:

In a 2011 interview with the Guardian, Gorbachev was asked to name the things he most regretted. He replied:

The fact that I went on too long in trying to reform the Communist party.

He should have resigned in April 1991, he said, and formed a democratic party of reform since the Communists were putting the brakes on all the necessary changes.

His second regret, he said, is that he did not start to reform the Soviet Union and give more power to its 15 republics at an earlier stage.


A colossus - we won’t see his like again.

I remember him making a visit to the UK in 1984 just before he assumed the role of General Secretary of the USSR. It was used by the Kremlin to sound out the potential for arms reduction talks between the US and USSR. Famously, Thatcher and Gorbachev got on like a house on fire despite their many differences and she was able to persuade Washington they could do business with him. But the one takeaway I remember - he smiled. He wasn’t one of the dour Soviet leaders we saw in fuzzy film from Moscow, he - and his stunningly beautiful wife Raisa - actually seemed to be human beings.

Everything seemed possible when he and Reagan started talking. The first arms reduction treaty was an incredible achievement - strangely, again I remember one thing in particular - an advert for Parker Pens showing the two men signing the document with the slogan ‘Truly, the pen is mightier than the sword’.

And then there was that dizzying moment when he and Reagan met at Höfði in Reykjavík when for a while it actually looked like the two superpowers would move to complete nuclear disarmament.

Now look where we are now. All Russia’s promise has been squandered by thugs and murderers and those nuclear treaties are now mostly history. We need new great leaders, but look what we have on all sides.

Sigh - but perhaps his best monument that will hopefully never be undone is that the Eastern Bloc and the ex-Soviet republics are now independent countries, many of which are developed democracies and Germany has been reunited. He was far from perfect - his behaviour towards Lithuania in particular was horrendous - but the good far outweighs the bad.

We’ve lost a good man.


Farewell to a good man.

Sadly, he won’t get the legacy he deserves, because he failed to do the absolutely impossible, and turn around a supertanker on a penny. And because he failed at the impossible, people still blame him for what came after- the 1990s, where Yeltsin and his cronies asset-stripped an entire superpower, leading to chaos and destitution for millions.

His other legacy- a peaceful end to the cold war, is also not looking as good as it should: after the rules-based international order was shredded at the end of the 90s, the following decades have seen war return as an instrument of policy.


Gorby, Maggie and Ronny. Three war criminals who got along well and didn’t start WW III.
Of the three Mr. G. comes out looking pretty good.
The bar is low indeed.


I knew It




RIP, Gorby!


Do Russian leaders only get state funerals if they die or get assassinated while still in office?

Yeltsin had a state funeral in 2007 (well after being out of office and with a worse reputation than Gorby), so it isn’t limited by that. But Gorbachev was never a leader of Russia itself so it’s complicated. I’m not even sure he would have wanted a state funeral by Russia.


I had the honour of shaking Gorbachev’s hand when he visited my university in the early 1990s.
He’s the only decent leader Russia has really had in its history, so of course many Russian Know -Nothings hated him.


It was a very different Gorbachev I encountered in 2019. This would be the fifth and final interview he gave me. There was a sadness to him I hadn’t seen before. As if he sensed that his achievements were being rolled back; that Russia was re-embracing authoritarianism and East-West confrontation was returning.

In the interview, Gorbachev recalled his early days in power.

“When I became 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.’”

By now, there were tears in Gorbachev’s eyes.

“I was stunned. That’s how people were. That’s how much they had suffered in the last war.”

Mikhail Gorbachev wasn’t perfect. No leader is. But this was a man who cared deeply about averting a Third World War. And he cared deeply about his family.


Vladimir Putin expressed his deepest condolences

Insert ‘You do not know the correct meaning of that word’ meme


Incredible that he lived just long enough to see Pizza Hut cease operations and withdraw from Russia in response to the criminal invasion of Ukraine.


Yes, this, unfortunately.

He is lauded in the west but not so much in Russia or even some of the other former Soviet republics.


Hey, they could do a Soviet-style procession with Putin propped up in the review stand.


He was a sane and smart man, surrounded by the insanity and stupidity of violence and repression.

Even his lifespan was bookended by it. He was born shortly after Stalin consolidated power and transformed the Soviet Union into a repressive totalitarian state. Mikhail was a toddler when Stalin began the horrific Ukrainian genocide. And, of course, in his waning days, Gorbachev observed Putin meticulously consolidating power, repressing the population, and then launching attacks against Ukraine.

But in between, Gorbachev elevated himself to the peak of power, and he used that power to transform the USSR to a more open political and cultural landscape. He saw the possibility of a USSR which would not rely on violent repression and lies and which could elevate the lives of millions of Russians. He made bold moves which met with resistance within the Politburo. He could have benefited from more open support and cooperation.

But that was not forthcoming.

In late May and early June 1987, U.S. intelligence learned that Gorbachev was planning to start the process of dismantling the Berlin Wall. Though some White House aides recognized this as a potentially risky move for Gorbachev, and worth welcoming with support, some speech writers decided instead to use this as a domestic political opportunity for Reagan. They could have taken the approach of waiting for Gorbachev to initiate the process, offering cooperation and openness in return. But they opted to place Reagan before the wall in Kreutzberg, where he gave a performance of bold posturing, proclaiming for the cameras:

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Many White House officials had advised against this, saying it would likely aggravate east-west tensions or embarrass Gorbachev. Reagan liked the way it sounded; he and the speechwriters kept it in.

That moment got amplified on the news, and conservative media promoted it for decades to enhance the mythology of Reagan having “won the Cold War.” But in fact it was a damaging stunt. Gorbachev was infuriated. He had been days away from announcing the plan to do just that. It was a bold move, part of many bold actions to restructure the entire Soviet economy. But now, suddenly, it looked as though Gorbachev and the USSR were capitulating and weak.

The old guard in the Politburo were enraged. They belittled Gorbachev as a stupid weakling, and before long, they tried to remove Gorbachev in a coup d’etat. The coup failed, barely; Gorbachev was left more vulnerable, and Boris Yeltsin stepped up in the time of crisis and was suddenly the biggest political star in the USSR. Yeltsin quickly became Gorbachev’s rival as the Communist Party disbanded, and the Soviet Union collapsed. Yeltsin presented himself as the stronger leader and necessary for a newly reborn Russia.

But Yeltsin turned out to be a volatile drunk, feckless and vulnerable to manipulation. Vladimir Putin maneuvered to gain his trust and became the new leader, and you know the awful rest of the story.

The time between 1987 and 1991 should be viewed as an historic tragedy of squandered opportunities. And Russia/USSR lost the only leader they’ve had in the last century who worked effectively to make government open and honest, to make life better for the public. Nowadays analysts say that Russia simply can’t be led without lying, repression, and violence. Maybe they’re right, but I can’t help but wonder where we might be now if things had been handled differently then.


Oh hey, now Gorby can finally put his foot up Reagan’s senile ass for that BS.


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