Few people have marked the 20th century as decisively as Mikhail Gorbachev, who died this Tuesday (30), aged 91. As leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he wrote history, and his importance is indisputable.
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This view is prevalent in the West and even more so among Germans, who see the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner as one of the fathers of Reunification and shower him with awards and honors – a situation that only reinforces Gorbachev’s tragic aspect. never having experienced similar recognition in their own country.
Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, dies at 91
Born in 1931 in the North Caucasus, Mikhail Sergeyevitch Gorbachev had a fast political career, being appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party by the highest Soviet elite in March 1985.
Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, greet Mickey and Minnie at the entrance to Tokyo Disneyland, Japan.
At the age of 54, the young and dynamic Gorbachev had the task of getting the second superpower in the world, the Soviet Union, out of the stagnation in which it found itself – especially the economic stagnation. Gorbachev faced the task with an unusual determination for reform, with the aim of transforming bureaucratic and corrupt structures.
The Russian terms Glasnost (transparency) and Perestroika (restructuring), used to denote these reforms, became known throughout the world. To ensure that these internal reforms took their course, the Soviet leader bet on a policy of peace and detente with the US and its Western allies in the Cold War – with then unpredictable consequences for world history.
For when he was elected president of the Soviet Union in 1990, the periphery of the Soviet empire had already dissolved. People in the republics of eastern Central and Eastern Europe freed themselves from their socialist dictatorships in the midst of the memorable year of 1989. The Warsaw Pact – the Soviet-led military alliance – was in ruins. And in East Germany, the most important prey the Soviet Union had taken during World War II, people not only demanded freedom and democracy, but also union with West Germany.
To the annoyance of many Soviet conservatives, Gorbachev let all this go peacefully. Thus he broke with the Soviet policy of violently suppressing revolts in his sphere of influence. Certainly his humanitarian convictions led him to adopt this stance, but an important role was played by the great trust he placed in the then German Federal Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.
Yes to German Reunification
Later the former German head of government would write: “The personal decisions of Mikhail Gorbachev in a difficult historical situation should not be underestimated. Twenty-four hours after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Stasi and the KGB [serviços secretos, respectivamente, da antiga Alemanha Oriental e da União Soviética] tried to make it clear to him: Soviet troops in East Germany are in danger, the Soviet military must intervene. Gorbachev objected.”
The friendship between Kohl and Gorbachev was an important factor in the Soviet leader’s consent to reunification, which was later ratified through the so-called 2+4 Treaty, signed between West Germany and East Germany, as well as France. , UK, Soviet Union and USA.
Collapse of the Soviet Union
As Gorbachev softened international relations and gained recognition and trust in the West with his policy, he was losing political power within the Soviet Union. His policy of reform had destroyed the foundations of the Soviet system without creating new institutions to support it.
Thus, while Europeans and especially Germans elevated Gorbachev, in the year of his reunification, 1990, to the status of idol of a democratic and peaceful revolution, the Soviet planned economy was increasingly collapsing.
The non-Russian Soviet republics – especially the Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – turned against the center of Soviet-Russian power in Moscow.
The crisis also reached the center of power in Russia, where future president Boris Yeltsin was preparing to assume political leadership. The citizens of the Soviet Union, who had not elected Gorbachev, sank deeper and deeper into misery and held the president directly responsible for this situation.
Whether it was Gorbachev’s policy that led to the end of the Soviet Union or whether the Soviet system itself was no longer sustainable will remain a point of contention among historians.
Gorbachev was losing more and more power and prestige. And with him, the elite in Moscow saw their privileges and influence wane. When, in 1991, Gorbachev did not heed the demands of the Soviet hardliners, who advocated heavy intervention in the breakaway republics, she rebelled against him. Gorbachev was put under house arrest in Crimea. But the coup failed because in Moscow the population, under the leadership of newly elected President Yeltsin, resisted.
When Gorbachev returned to Moscow from Crimea, the world was already different: the Soviet structures were devalued, and his position as president of the Soviet Union no longer existed in practice – also because it was Gorbachev himself who had put many of the coup plotters in danger. their positions. Thus, in a televised speech on December 25, 1991, Gorbachev announced his resignation from the presidency, just hours before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
With his farewell speech, Gorbachev fell into political insignificance in his country. As a candidate in the 1996 presidential election, he received only 0.5% of the vote. In the West, however, Gorbachev remained popular and recognized even after his resignation.
These opposing views carry something tragic, even if there is hope that one day he will have a better image in Russia as well. In German history books, however, he will always have an important and valued role.