Кем был Михаил Горбачёв (English subtitles) / @Максим Кац
Yesterday, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev died, the first president of the Soviet Union, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, the last leader of half of the world and the last ruler of an entire pole on our planet. He described himself as a politician who lost, but whose politics won. This is truly so, because today you won’t find a publication in Germany, Chzeh, Britain, Romania or even Hungary that doesn’t have Gorbachev on the cover. Mikhail Gorbachev has changed our world. Being an extremely controversial politician, he made our world so much better that no pencil pusher can’t undo it now.
He lost, he lived his last days without palaces and premium cars, he lived on official dacha, he lived by earning money with his own work. It’s a good thing really. Because today we are telling a story of a man who built a new world but didn't earn a penny off this new world.
Both for the country and for the entire world, our decision to conduct the Perestroika opened the way for cooperation, for peace, for preserving peace, and i regret that i couldn’t carry it to the end. Mikhail Gorbachev was born in 1931, in a village with a prophetic name Privolnoye (Free) near Stavropol. In childhood he attended school and was working as a combine operator, and graduated from the law faculty of Moscow State University. After the university he was rapidly climbing up the ranks of the CPSU — Gorbachev became the first secretary of first the Stavropol City Committee, and then of the regional party Committee.
Speaking in modern terms, in his 35 he was the Mayor of Stavropol, and in 39 he was the governor of Stavropol Region. But this was just the beginning of the career of a young and brave politician, who, unlike everyone else, didn’t hesitate to openly admit if there were problems. When he was 47, he was appointed to be a secretary of the CPSU Central Committee of agriculture. And at 54, after the famous “burial carriage race”, Mikhail Gorbachev became the General Secretary of the CPSU, effectively a leader of the country. And he was a leader who was young, energetic, and one who understood that there were problems and that they needed to be solved as soon as possible.
In stark contrast to his predecessors: Brezhnev’s right hand’s Chernenko and the irreplaceable head of the KGB Andropov, both of whom fortunately didn’t hold the General Secretary’s office for too long. Gorbachev was neither a liberal, nor a proponent of the free market, he was a communist. But he understood that the country needed reforms — the USSR was literally on the verge of collapse. And thus the new General Secretary started reforms as soon as he took the office, the Perestroika had begun.
First, the policy of “speeding up” was put in place — a policy of pumping resources into heavy industry and automobile production. Understandably it couldn’t work well for the benefit of the economy — neither the country nor the people wanted things that the “sped up” industries were producing. When it became clear that the country needed more radical changes, Gorbachev didn’t hesitate as well.
Former Brezhnev’s officials had left the politburo, and young reformers like Yeltsin and Shevardnadze took their places, and they were even more radical than Gorbachev. In an attempt to save the population from the widespread alcoholism, which replaced faith in any kind of change and the soon coming of socialism for a large part of the population, Gorbachev enacted the “dry law”. It soon became clear that this criticized and tough measure cost the General Secretary his popularity, but in the end it apparently added a few years of life expectancy in the country. Even then, it’s not how you should conduct reforms. After the disaster on the Chernobyl Power Plant, the politics of Glasnost (transparency) was adopted. First it was simply that censorship was weakened and the information regarding problems and decisions of the state had become more accessible.
People got the opportunity to read banned authors like Pasternak or Solzhenitsin. But the freedom of speech couldn’t fit into these boundaries and soon people began to criticize the government, listen to western radio, and to do research on Stalin’s repressions. The secret addition to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was published, the one in which Stalin negotiated with Hitler about the division of Europe — an event which changed our understanding of the Great Patriotic War and ended censorship in the USSR.
Gorbachev also initiated liberalization in the economy. He did it in an attempt to fill the empty shelves in shops. Citizens got the right to create cooperatives — effectively private firms that could engage in all kinds of activities, including trade. Also cooperatives received the right to utilize hired labor. It was, in fact, a legalization of entrepreneurship in the USSR — a communist country! But Gorbachev didn’t allow free pricing and didn’t carry privatization, so it couldn’t save the economy and stop the Soviet Union from collapsing.
Gorbachev was consistently working on reducing tensions between the USSR and the USA. In 1986 he met with Reigan and began the much expected cooperation between the USSR and the West, which was the beginning of the end of the cold war that lasted for half a century. First disarmament treaties were signed, and soon something happened that the entire USSR waited for 10 years — the soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. The Berlin Wall fell, and Germany once again was united. For his efforts in external politics and in ending the cold war, Gorbachev was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
But the most important changes took place in the political structure of the country. Sakharov returned from his exile, and persecution of dissidents was stopped. Meetings were now allowed — and demonstrations immediately took place all over the country.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the center of the capital with anti-communist slogans. Gorbachev introduced a new supreme body of state power - and this body was elected! For the first time in the history of the USSR, the Congress of People's Deputies was elected in competitive elections, it was really possible to choose your candidate from a list - an unprecedented thing, the last time it happened it was the elections into the Constituent Assembly. And even though communists still had the absolute majority in the Congress due to quotas, it already had a democratic faction.
For the first time from the tribunes the criticisms of communism and the leadership were sounded and were broadcast on TV, as well as the call for new and more radical reforms. It is at this moment our modern democracy was born, a democracy which Putin is now ripping apart but cannot finish. Of course all those reforms couldn’t save the USSR from collapsing, even though Gorbachev tried to prevent it and even conducted a referendum in which the majority decided that the USSR must be preserved. But soon the Baltic republics seceded from the Union, then Armenia and Georgia, and soon after the USSR had only remained on paper. The day before the Union was supposed to be transformed into a new federated state, a group of militants known as SCSE blocked Gorbachev in his dacha in Crimea. These people have attempted a coup to roll back Gorbachev’s reforms, turn the time back and for the sake of their own ambition revive the mythical USSR that never existed in reality.
Fortunately, the young Russian society that had emerged during the time of Glasnost and Gorbachev’s reforms no longer wanted to return to what it had escaped with such relief. The SCSE had lost, and the USSR collapsed. With it, the political career of Mikhail Gorbachev ended.
Dear compatriots, fellow citizens, as a result of the newly formed situation, creation of the Commonwealth of of Independent States, I cease my activities in the post of the USSR president. I am making this decision out of considerations based on principle. I have firmly stood for independence, self-rule of nations, for the sovereignty of the republics, but at the same time for preservation of the union state, the unity of the country.
Events went a different way. The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, with which I cannot agree. After his resignation, Gorbachev traveled the world, read lectures and shared his experiences.
He created the environmentalist organization Green Cross International and had become one of the cofounders of Novaya Gazeta, and remained to be a shareholder until yesterday. Novaya Gazeta — one of the most important independent publications in Russia — is another of Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacies, and looks like this one cannot be stomped into the ground. Today, a pseudo-consensus exists in Russian society: Mikhail Gorbachev supposedly “caused the collapse of the great country”. But even a superficial study of Gorbachev’s reforms gives a clear understanding of how he, like nobody else, fought to preserve the Soviet state through its reformation. Mikhail Gorbachev can be rightly criticized for not being determined enough in the way of reforms. The true “speeding up” was lacking to conduct the true Perestroika, to truly reform the country.
But to criticize the last General Secretary and the first president of the USSR for leading the country this way is absurd. Gorbachev had become the captain of the ship when its hull had already rotten and winds of high oil prices stopped blowing into its sails. The vessel could still look intimidating above the waterline, but the water had already been rapidly flowing into the hold. The rotting and sinking ship needed rebuilding while it was still sailing. And you had to write new manuals from scratch. Soviet administrators wasted years of their lives researching the theory of socialist political economy that never worked.
But they knew very little about how the market economy works: from publications in which capitalism was subjected to devastating criticism. In the entire vast Soviet Union, only few people possessed the knowledge that is now available to anyone in any textbook on economy for the 10th grade. In 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, two vectors had crossed.
On one hand, the accumulated flaws of the ineffective model of economy had reached critical mass. In the 70th, soviet oil could have become a fuel for the necessary reforms, and there was a chance to carry them out painlessly. But instead of reforms, the Kremlin's elders of the era of stagnation wasted all the resources they had to reach 1980th almost unchanged. At the same time, the endless and the insanely expensive war in Afghanistan was draining the last resources from the country. The suicidal Afghan war started by Brezhnev by the way, who did not live to see the consequences of his politics and therefore remained a guarantor of stability in people’s memory. On the other hand, by the end of the 80th, the demands of Soviet citizens had changed.
People were no longer content with mere physical survival. The educated and urbanized society wanted high-quality, beautiful clothing, and not just something to cover yourself with. Half a year ago, a soviet citizen was happy to simply not be starving. But now they were irritated about how they can’t just come to a friend’s birthday with a cake without first having to do a research on where they could obtain the cake. Finally, the large part of society wanted free access to information and the ability to spread it.
They were urban intelligentsia, without which no progress, including scientific and technical, is possible. The demand for freedom of information required an adequate response. You couldn’t just put a stop to it with force anymore. And it wasn’t what Gorbachev wanted anyway. During the first months, Mikhail Gorbachev still tried to make the most of the system that he inherited. For some time he was continuing Yury Andropov’s course on authoritarian modernization.
It’s when the government was spending billions on technological equipment but couldn’t truly motivate workers. People were no longer that afraid of the stick, those weren’t Stalin’s time. But they really wanted carrots. During Gorbachev’s time, the economic reformation had fully started not immediately but only in 1986.
The political reformation — only in 1988. Gorbachev’s reforms were not the problem. The problem was that they came too late.
Mikhail Gorbachev invited prominent USSR scientists to be his advisors. Their job was to think of specific mechanisms of changes. It’s not Gorbachev’s fault that after decades of studying marxism-leninism, soviet experts had to grope their way when they had to deal with reality.
To rediscover what was for a long time now a common knowledge in capitalist countries. Those were the only experts Mikhail Gorbachev had! The active participant of the Perestroika movement, a nowaday famous historian Alexander Shubin once said: Gorbachev has driven into a swamp and the engine was not powerful enough. It was not the driver’s fault — the old engine died, and the new one was yet to be invented”. Now back to the question of who “destroyed the great country”.
The idea to renegotiate the Union Treaty was Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempt to save the Soviet state. In theory, the USSR could be recreated based on new principles. The process of coming to this decision was slow and not easy for Gorbachev. But when the decision was made and not too soon, that possibility was made impossible by the SCSE coup.
The orthodoxal soviet officials were the ones who buried the Soviet Union, not Gorbachev. Another thing that Gorbachev deserves respect for is that, when it had become obvious that the USSR was going to collapse, he didn’t cling to the president’s chair. After the “parade of sovereignties”, after the beginning of hostilities in Karabakh and Transnistria, and then the clashes between people of Baku, Vilnius and Riga and the Soviet Army, after all these events the western analytics were in terror. They prophesied a new bloody civil war and a terrible humanitarian crisis.
A full-scale war in a country the size of half a continent, whose economy for 70 years had been working on producing heavy armaments, would result in tens of millions of deaths. To understand why such a possibility was real, it’s enough to look at Tajikistan. During a civil war there, one in twenty people had died, and for 5 years the country had been controlled by warlords from dozens of militant groups, who could make an alliance one day and start fighting again on another.
And now imagine such a war on the scale of the Soviet Union, but multiply the number of weapons by 100 and add the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world. And the catastrophe could have happened if Gorbachev decided to cling to power to the very end. If he tried, being the Commander Chief of the Armed Forces of the USSR, to return the republic that declared independence under Moscow’s control. But he decided to leave. As Gorbachev himself said, after the signing of the Belovezhskaya Accords, which fixed the collapse of the Soviet Union on paper, he was in prostration. He believed that the country could be reformed.
He did everything to buy it more time. For 17 days Gorbachev waited for a miracle that would stop the country from falling apart. Maybe intelligentsia would speak up. Maybe the people would mass protest to support the USSR.
But there was no reaction. No one was willing to save the dying empire. Thus Gorbachev resigned, transferred the control of nuclear weapons to Yeltsin, and had a farewell dinner in Moskva hotel.
When he was abandoning power, he said that his life’s work, the reforms, was done, and that he now hopes that those who come to replace him will be better at carrying out reforms. If you’re interested in these events, I have a book about it. It tells about Gorbachev, Perestroika, the SCSE, there’s pictures, it’s an interesting read. Why were Gorbachev’s reforms important to us? Because after so many years, after the dramatic rollback, they couldn’t be destroyed. Despite all the horror that’s happening, the main thing we can thank Mikhail Sergeevich for is the freedom to choose.
The Russian Society lost much since Perestroika. We didn’t just lose the visible signs of Perestroika, we’ve lost its principles. The independent judiciary and freedom of speech that bore the name of Glasnost is our biggest loss. To think freely in modern Russia can lead to the defendant’s dock.
But now we can leave, at least. We can speak freely from Tbilisi, New York, Tel Aviv, Amsterdam, Yerevan, or Sydney if that’s where we’ll end up. And people in Russia may hear us. Gorbachev took the first steps towards democracy in our country, and those steps were gigantic. Putin had to be trumpling that democracy over the entirety of the last 22 years.
And he still cannot fully destroy it, because we already know and remember how it was. And since we remember it, we’ll rebuild it just as fast as it happened during Gorbachev’s time. This is what great reformers do. They give you something that cannot be taken away. Leonid Parfenov's film about Mikhail Gorbachev is called “he came to give us freedom”.
And he indeed gave it to us. And today, when you must choose between the bad and the very bad, between emigration (an emigration into nowhere for many) and prison, it’s becoming ever more clear. That man gave us choice, he gave us freedom. I want to end this video with a few verses by Leonid Kaganov.
This is an excerpt from a poem written in 2011, on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80-years jubilee. Let slaves from Kamchatka to Moscow curse you You prohibited them to lick their higher ups’ asses Let people argue about how it could’ve been better History will be the judge, and people of the future will remember How in a huge country that was on its last leg There was a honest, modest, and misunderstood leader All that was done is not a small thing, all that happened was for good Be happy, Mikhail Sergeevich. Be happy… It ended with “and live long”. Can’t say that today. Rest in peace, Mikhail Sergeevich. Russia will be free. Fate had it so that when I became head of state, it was already clear that the country was not okay. There is everything: land, oil and gas, and other natural resources. We have a lot of talent and smart people.
But we lived much worse than developed countries and keep falling behind them more and more. I am leaving my post with apprehension, but also with hope, with faith in you, your wisdom and force of spirit. We are the heirs of a great civilization, and its rebirth into a new, modern and dignified life now depends on one and all.