A visionary man has died.
The man who, after assuming the leadership of the Soviet Union in 1985, had the imagination and daring to bet that the people he was entrusted to rule had it in them to embrace freedom.
So he came up with the notions of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (opening) and for a brief period the people of that vast land breathed the sweet scent of freedom.
It wouldn’t last.
Some of his comrades began to plot against him and in the summer of 1991, staged a coup that nearly overthrew him. The conspirators were people who didn’t want to lose their privileges. Small minded people willing to do anything, such as insisting on the notion of a soviet empire to distract the people with dreams of grandeur, so they could continue to be first in line at the trough.
The Soviet Union was going through a very difficult time economically when Gorbachev rose to power. The need for change was pressing.
He bravely answered the challenge but the transition from a centrally directed economy to a market economy was slow and scarcity and poverty followed. His popularity plummeted and he resigned on Christmas day, 1991.
But in a few short years he had changed the face of the world. The Soviet Union was no more and the cold war was over. Germany was unified.
And the world saw, in astonishment, that even in a land which had been ruled for centuries by all manner of despots, czars and communists, freedom could blossom..
That precious moment had not been imported from the West. It had been a Russian thinker, a Russian patriot, a Russian visionary, a son of Russian and Ukrainian peasants who worked the land for a living, who had the courage to step forward and, putting his career on the line, say to his fellow countrymen, this is the path to follow, no matter what pains we must endure.
But the people he so loved and whose future was so dear to his heart, didn’t see the promise that shone in his eyes. And they rejected him. They would not endure the suffering he asked them to endure.
He resigned on December 25th, 1991. Some say that having the power to mobilize the army, he should have suppressed protests and kept himself as president. But that would have meant going against his core principles, going against perestroika and glasnost. That would have meant inflicting added pain on his people. He would not do it.
I am sure that in China, today, Gorbachev’s life will be studied for what not to do. For it is in the interest of that government to keep the Chinese people oppressed.
And Putin will celebrate quietly his conviction that Russians have no need for freedom. What they need is to listen to his wisdom, his insights into the human condition, the certainty that massacring the people of Ukraine is in the best interest of all Russians.
Putin will not win. The spirit of Mikhail Gorbachev will. It may take some time but just as Gorbachev changed the face of the world for the better, Putin’s actions are changing the face of the world for the worse. But the flicker of freedom that lives in the soul of Russia will soon burn brightly, and shine a light on their road to democracy.
Thank you, Mikhail Gorbachev, and your wife Raisa. We won’t forget you.
Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
Oscarvaldes.medium.com, apple podcasts