RW Note: Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who ushred in its collapse, did not really understand free markets but he was no oppressor and he played an important role in the move in eastern Europe away from unbearable totalitarianism and toward freedom.
Reviled by Many Russians, Mikhail Gorbachev Still Has Lots to Say
By Neil MacFarquhar
MOSCOW — In recent months, various prominent public figures, including at least one close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin, have insisted that Russia officially proclaim Mikhail S. Gorbachev a criminal for abetting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Some regularly demand that Mr. Gorbachev be put on trial for the events, not least, as one member of Parliament member put it, to expose the operations of a “fifth column” within Russia.
Yet when the organizers of Mr. Gorbachev’s 85th birthday extravaganza in March approached the landmark Hotel Ukraine about a banquet, its owners refused payment after they learned that it was the former leader being honored.
“They said that without Gorbachev they would have ended up as small merchants in the market, criminals dealing in contraband,” said Alexei Venediktov, a close friend and the editor in chief of the radio station Echo of Moscow, the main news outlet for liberal Russians. “They said: ‘Now we are the owners of all this thanks to Gorbachev! Not a kopeck!’”
In an interview, Mr. Gorbachev shrugged off the fact that 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remains among the most reviled men in Russia. “It is freedom of expression,” he said.
Yet the official line denigrating traditional democracy, combined with the very idea that he should face trial, obviously irks him, so he churns out articles, essays and books about the need to enhance freedom in Russia. His latest effort, called “The New Russia” in English, was released in the United States in late May.
There is also great admiration for him among Russians, too, of course. Some adore him for introducing perestroika, or restructuring, combined with glasnost, or openness, which together helped to jettison the worst repressions of the Communist system. Mr. Gorbachev led the way, albeit haltingly, toward free speech, free enterprise and open borders.
“Some love him for bringing freedom, and others loathe him for bringing freedom,” said Dmitri Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, one of the few remaining independent newspapers and one in which Mr. Gorbachev holds a 10 percent stake.
The society at large blames him for losing the Soviet empire and leaving them citizens of a second-class country, even if individuals recognize that he opened new horizons for them and their children.
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