Mikhail Gorbachev was the first and last true republican in Russia
The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev died on August 30 at 91. Here is a piece I wrote about him last year on his 90th birthday.
Depending on individual ideological preferences, one can accuse Mikhail Gorbachev of million things or thank him a million times. He “gave the people freedom” but “destroyed the Union”. He released Sakharov from exile but introduced prohibition. He received the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, life in his country did not become more peaceful.
Having managed to bury most of his former opponents and supporters, Gorbachev remained the last fragment of the Soviet Union. Thirty years later, he stubbornly continued to irritate everyone because the USSR was dead and Gorbachev was still alive.
At the same time, Mikhail Gorbachev will enter the future textbooks with a plus sign. Before or after him, a figure of this magnitude never rose so high in Russia.
For example, he was the most educated leader in Russia. The tsars received only home education. Lenin was expelled from one university and graduated from another as an external student. The Soviet general secretaries in this regard did not grab stars from the sky, just like Yeltsin, who received a modest diploma from the Ural Polytechnic University.
Only Mikhail Gorbachev and Dmitry Medvedev received a serious higher education. And while the former became a doctor of science, the latter remains a candidate. While working in the Stavropol Komsomol, Gorbachev even thought about quitting politics and going into science.
But let's not overestimate the importance of formal education. Much more important is a broad outlook. Gorbachev always had it in abundance. Few of the Soviet officials were so interested in the European order, and Gorbachev started to travel very early, back in the mid-sixties. He made friends with foreigners, studied their experiences, and read books inaccessible to ordinary Soviet citizens. Gorbachev was elected Secretary General after he looked at the world. Comparing what he saw with Soviet realities, Gorbachev could not help but realize the need for fundamental reforms.
Although Gorbachev considered himself an intellectual, he did not hesitate to consult more competent people. Even before he was elected general secretary, Gorbachev assembled a group of expert economists, including sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya and economist Abel Aganbegyan, from the Siberian branch of the Academy of Sciences.
Finally, for all Gorbachev's evident love of publicity, he was perhaps the furthest away from the desire to form a cult of his personality. Boris Yeltsin, who succeeded him, was often called Tsar Boris, but there was nothing monarchical about Gorbachev. Pluralism has always been not just a figure of speech for him. He became the first true republican steering the country. Imperialism disgusted him. Therefore he stubbornly ignored the boring old leaders of the socialist countries. In Gorbachev's world view, numerous satellites only interfered with the Soviet Union.
Even the stalled reforms can be explained by Gorbachev's desire to negotiate. Someone else in his place would have broken the old guard of the Politburo over the knee. Still, it was important for Mikhail Gorbachev to convince his opponents using all his oratorical gifts. Probably, in another life, he would have become a good debate club president, but in this reality, he remained the last republican, a man who believed in the people more than they believed in themselves.
Elia Kabanov is a science writer covering the past, present and future of technology (@metkere)