Why Gorbachev is so loved in the West and hated in Russia
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Why Gorbachev is so loved in the West and hated in Russia

The death of Mikhail Sergeevic Gorbachev, the man of perestroyka, is a perfect indicator of the political, psychological and moral distance that has now opened between the West and Russia.

The death of Mikhail Sergeevic Gorbachev, the man of perestroyka, the last secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the first and only president of the Soviet Union, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, is a perfect indicator of political, psychological and moral distance. which has now opened between the West and Russia. With us, who called him Gorby, the old leader who died at 92 is generally remembered with affection and regret, as the face of a season of international detente, of dialogue, of disarmament. In Russia, a certain indifference is flaunted in most cases, like when the weird old uncle who had messed up a lot in life disappears. The official condolences are detached, and in any case are dominated by the noisy rancor of those, not a few, who accuse him of having destroyed the USSR and for this, even now, they curse him.

On the other hand, there is a logic in this apparent madness. If we sometimes fail to see it, it is because in the Eighties we convinced ourselves that Gorbachev was really “like us”, that he really had the Soviet Union in a bad mood. The opposite was true: Gorby loved the USSR, to the point of attempting the mission impossible of reforming it, making it peaceful and efficient, getting it out of political stagnation and the economic crisis. And it is precisely here that the abysmal distance between his season and the current one is measured. Between his love for the USSR and the revaluation of the USSR that is advancing day by day in Russia today.

Let’s take Stalin. In the name of the victory over Nazism in 1945, and of the centrality that the Great Patriotic War (as the Russians call the Second World War) assumed in Russian historical memory, the Georgian tyrant has for years been the subject of an insidious recovery process that leads with itself a series of consequences, for example in justifying an autocratic and centralized vision of the state. Gorbachev, who became general secretary of the Communist Party at the age of 54 in 1985, in 1986 rehabilitated dissident Andrey Sakharov, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, and freed him from exile in the closed city of Gorky to which he had been sentenced in 1980. Again: it was with Gorbachev that the victims of Stalin’s repressions were finally able to be counted, remembered and honored, and thanks to him the many associations that took on that arduous commitment were born.

Everyone remembers the great slogans of the six years (1985-1991) of the Gorbachev season: perestroyka and glasnost ‘. The first (restructuring) alluded to the reform of internal economic processes. As early as 1988, in fact, Gorbachev launched his most sensational reform, the Law on Cooperatives, which effectively reintroduced private property in the USSR, opening a small but decisive door on the market economy. Russia in Vladimir Putin’s second decade of power has taken the opposite path. More and more state in the economy. Not only with regard to the extraction and sale of gas and oil abroad, decisive resources for the country, completely controlled by public companies. But also in the daily life of citizens: it has been calculated that 40% of Russians depend on public spending for the quality of life, for a share of up to 40% of household income. Glasnost ‘, on the other hand, referred to the transparency of internal processes, essentially the rate of democracy in the relationship between the state and citizens. Gorbachev was always faithful to this goal, so much so that in 1990, when he became President of the USSR, he was elected by a parliament for the first time multi-party and democratically elected. In today’s Russia the opposite happens: Vladimir Putin is still a leader supported by the Russians but the Constitution has been changed to allow him, in fact, to remain in power for life.

But the most sensational and evident change, the widest gap between Gorbachev’s years is the current ones, lies in the relationship with the West. Gorbachev (who, let us repeat, wanted to reform the USSR, not destroy it) was convinced that in order to change his country and guarantee a better future for the Russians, it was necessary to find an agreement with the West, to end a Cold War rather than for the The USSR meant, among other things, a huge waste of resources in armaments. Thus, in just one year, 1989, two decisions of historic significance: the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the abandonment of the Berlin Wall, which inaugurated a series of international agreements aimed at ending the tension between the blocs and disarmament. Today the exact opposite is happening: skyrocketing tension, rearmament and even war in Ukraine, in the borderland between Russia and Europe.

Mikhail Gorbachev, of course, was not a saint (the violent repression in the Baltic countries, in 1991, and in particular in Lithuania, is a stain in his history) nor was he incapable of making mistakes (for example, trusting the “old” leaders who then , in 1991, they organized the coup). And perhaps that of reforming the USSR was really a mission impossible, a desperate undertaking. For this reason, the Russians who accuse him can be partially understood, even if in reality the cruelest difficulties came immediately afterwards, with the reforms (at that point, with the USSR disintegrated and finished, inevitable) launched by Boris Yeltsin. The Russians, in turn, should however understand us and look around: shouldn’t we really be homesick for a leader who had made us hope for a world in which the West and Russia could not only tolerate each other but even collaborate? Are we really wrong, then, to believe in a better world?