What did the Soviet bring us?

Gorbachev - gravedigger of the USSR?

In the West, especially in Germany, this question is quite easy to answer: Gorbachev is still considered to be the one who ended the East-West conflict and brought freedom and democracy to the Eastern Bloc countries - a hero.

Gorbachev has the Soviet Union on the conscience

If you ask the same question in Russia, the answer is likely to be negative in most cases. For many people, Gorbachev is seen as a traitor who has a superpower on his conscience. Only recently, the Russian polling institute Levada-Zentrum asked in a survey which political program from 1991 people would follow, that of Yeltsin or that of Gorbachev. 59 percent said neither of them. At least 16 percent still believed in Yeltsin. Gorbachev, on the other hand, was inclined to only 9 percent. It also has something to do with the current domestic and foreign policy situation in Russia. With the ongoing tensions with the West and the increasingly difficult economic situation, the Soviet Union is becoming a historical place of longing.

"Greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century"

And not just among the common people. In March 2016, the party of political eccentric and populist Zhirinovsky submitted a motion to the State Duma to classify the political activities of the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev and that of the first President of Russia as criminal. The reason: "The collapse of the USSR, national conflicts, numerous armed conflicts, an ailing health system, rising mortality rates as well as the increase in alcohol and drug addicts and the catastrophic decline in the living standards of millions of citizens during the 1990s - all that is no coincidence." A month earlier, the popular Soviet and Russian actor and director Nikita Michalkow had made a similar proposal. "The disappointment in itself is very big, but when it comes to the disappointed hopes of a huge country and a great people, I can't help calling it a tragedy," he later added.

Vladimir Putin is likely to think similarly. After all, the quote from him has come down to us: "The collapse of the USSR is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." When he was asked at a question time in December 2011, when he was still prime minister, what he would have done in place of Gorbachev, he replied: "Instead of burying your head in the sand, you would have fought hard and fearless for the preservation of our state have to."

Highest order in Russia for Gorbachev

There are of course other voices and views. People who think above all of the freedom that Gorbachev's reforms brought the Soviet citizens. For example, on his 80th anniversary in 2011, almost 20 years after the end of his political career, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was also awarded the highest order of the Russian state by President Medvedev. "I think that is an adequate appraisal of the great work that you have done at the head of the state. You have actually led our country in a very difficult and dramatic situation. And we all know that," Medvedev told Gorbachev on this occasion . This year, on the occasion of his 85th birthday, there was only a brief telegram from President Putin.

Disappointment with the west

But Gorbachev himself has also changed over the years. As foreign relations between Russia and the West have cooled down, his earlier trust and enthusiasm for the latter has given way to disappointment and bitterness. This is especially true with regard to NATO and its successive expansion into the east over the decades, ever closer to Russia's borders.

He commented on the decisions of this year's NATO summit in Warsaw to station troops in the Baltic states, speaking to the Russian news agency Interfax: "NATO is preparing to turn a cold war into a hot one. All the rhetoric in Warsaw is crying out for an effort to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defense, but in fact they are preparing to attack. " Shortly before, Gorbachev had already defended Putin's Crimean policy in an interview with the Sunday Times and said that he would do the same in a similar situation. According to this statement, Ukraine has given him an entry ban.

(First published on 08/19/2016)

MDR | 11/20/2016 | 10:30 p.m.