Ebene Magazine – Happy 90th birthday, Mr. Gorbachev

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Ebene Magazine - Happy 90th birthday, Mr. Gorbachev

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General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev on December 6, 1989. (Wojtek Laski / Getty Images)

No one has seen world history in the second half of the 20th century like this profoundly influenced like Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Celebrating his 90th birthday on March 2nd is a time to reflect on the difference and clear up any misunderstandings.

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In 1985 the Soviet Union was a military superpower that could destroy the United States and Western Europe just as NATO could devastate the USSR. No outside pressure could force a Soviet leadership to take concrete steps to end the Cold War, replace the obligatory Marxist-Leninist official doctrine with free intellectual inquiry, and transform the political system. The popular notion that it was the (real enough) shortcomings of the Soviet economy that sparked radical change is refuted by the higher priority that Gorbachev gave to political rather than economic reform.

Many senior members of the Reagan administration – though not his Secretary of State George Shultz – concluded that Gorbachev simply bowed to the inevitable and did what every Soviet leader had to do when confronted with American arms construction and the ideological offensive was faced. US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger was one of the celebrities who, even in retrospect, did not understand Gorbachev’s contribution and his values. As Weinberger saw it, Gorbachev realized that the Soviet Union “couldn’t win a war,” and changed his rhetoric, but not his philosophy: “He talked a lot about perestroika, glasnost, all of these things, but he never really changed.” </ That was totally wrong. Fortunately, Reagan trusted his own impressions of Gorbachev and preferred Shultz's judgment of the need for constructive dialogue with the Soviet Union to Weinberger's deep suspicions of such contacts. The CIA leadership was no less blunt than that Ministry of Defense, President Gorbachev

Here’s What Executives Facing Global Crisis Can Learn From Mikhail Gorbachev
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Nothing could be further from the truth than claiming that Gorbachev has not changed. His political views developed remarkably. He was unusually open to a political leader, let alone a general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He began as a communist reformer in 1985 and by the end of the decade had developed into a social democratic socialist – on the same wavelength as his preferred foreign interlocutors, Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González and President of the Socialist International and former West Chancellor Willy Brandt.

The destructive power available to American presidents and Soviet leaders gave relations between them a unique meaning. Reagan, with the encouragement of Shultz and the foreign leader he called his « soul mate » Margaret Thatcher, was ready to deal with Gorbachev. Their differences of opinion were great, but they shared a desire to ban nuclear weapons entirely, a policy that disrupted the Washington Foreign and Defense Institute more than their Moscow counterparts because the Soviet side retained an advantage over the conventional armed forces.

This one Ziel also appalled the British Prime Minister. Thatcher believed that the only good thing about the 1986 Reykjavik Summit, when the two leaders were on the verge of banning nuclear weapons, was that he ended up on the rock of Reagan’s obsessive attachment to developing a missile defense system , its so-called strategic defense, collapsed Initiative or SDI. But American triumph reports, according to which Reagan and even SDI are expressly responsible for ensuring that the Soviet leadership has no alternative to a concessional peace policy, are far from the mark. Current topic

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Four different top Soviet leaders occupied the Kremlin during Reagan’s presidency The first two years coincided with the last two of Leonid Brezhnev. Then came Yuri Andropov’s 15 months, followed by Konstantin Chernenko’s 13 months, which led Reagan to complain that « these guys keep dying of me ». Unlike these three Soviet leaders, none of the foundations of the Soviet system changed during their leadership, and the Cold War remained icy. It was not until Gorbachev succeeded Chernenko on March 11, 1985, just nine days after his 54th birthday, that serious change began.

Gorbachev took the initiative when Chernenko died on March 10 at 7:20 p.m. and convened and chaired a Politburo meeting that same evening. The next day, the Politburo approved his election as General Secretary of the Central Committee. Nobody knew how far he was ready to go, nor did Gorbachev himself in March 1985 know how far he would go in reshaping the political system and Soviet foreign policy, but he knew that it went further than anything else in the world Thoughts of those who sat at the same table.
Psychologically, the characteristics of the new leader that enabled the scale of change were his intelligence, openness to new ideas, a natural charm that enabled him to relate to different leaders and groups, and an innate optimism . Only an optimist would have questioned the most powerful institutional interests within the Soviet system, including the military-industrial complex. Gorbachev’s mindset was different from that of other surviving members of the old guard. Nikolai Ryzhkov, chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1985 to 1990, described him as an « alien in the Brezhnev Central Committee ». For Anatoly Gromyko, son of the longstanding Soviet foreign minister, Gorbachev was a « pacifist ». That was an exaggeration, but he was without a doubt the most peaceful leader in Soviet history.

Politically, it was possible for Gorbachev to change the Soviet system so much that power lay in the office of Secretary General. But that power was great as long as the leader did not undermine the pillars of the system. This was the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, which meant a ban on the formation of independent organizations. « Democratic Centralism », a euphemism for a highly centralized party with strict discipline from above and the lack of democratic debate in reality; the power of the KGB to root out and punish all organized dissent; strict censorship of books and mass media; and pseudo-elections with only one candidate to choose from. In a strictly hierarchical ruling party with undeniable power, the person at the top of this hierarchy – the general secretary – had immense authority.

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Than the development of Gorbachevs Ideas and ambitions led him to dismantle these pillars of the system, it undermined his own power base. Especially from 1989 onwards, he ran the risk of being overthrown by the leaders of the Soviet institutions, who felt their own power waning. It required great political finesse and the skillful use of his remaining powers to fend off an attempted coup until August 1991.

Gorbachev renounced one Soviet shibboleth after another. Its emphasis on « purely human » interests and values ​​- avoiding nuclear war and containing the prevailing trend towards ecological disasters – was one of many deviations from earlier Soviet doctrine. For Gorbachev, these interests, common to all of humanity, went beyond class and national interests. The « new thinking » that Gorbachev embraced found its most eloquent expression in a notable speech he delivered on December 7, 1988 at the United Nations in New York. It should have signaled the end of the Cold War in its ideological dimension. Shultz recognized it as such, but was concerned that the incoming Bush administration was slow to prevail.

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Gorbachev abandoned the central principles of the past Soviet doctrine and, with an idealism that borders on utopia, called in this speech for a « demilitarization of international relations » and for humanity to seek a consensus on « a new world order « to strive. He stressed that a new order must not be « at the expense of the rights and freedoms of individuals or nations or at the expense of the natural world ». The people in every country have the right to choose their own political and economic system.

For the next 12 months, 1989, the Eastern European peoples took Gorbachev at his word, and in the Soviet Union itself, controversial elections took place for a new legislature with real powers. Ultimately, the new political pluralism contributed to the collapse of the USSR instead of fulfilling Gorbachev’s desire to move from a pseudo-federal state to a real federation, which he wanted to achieve in a lengthy negotiation process with the constituent republics of the Union.

Many elderly Russians today blame Gorbachev both for the loss of the Soviet system, from whose distance the view was enchanted, and for the breakup of the Soviet state, although he tried to prevent the latter without returning to oppression. Gorbachev is even less justly accused of the difficulties that the older generation had in the last three decades, although he had not exercised power in Russia since December 1991.

There is, however, a minority of his fellow citizens who still hold Gorbachev in high regard and who value his crucial role in ending the one-party dictatorship, censorship and double-thinking, leaving them a far freer land than the one he inherited Has. It is a shame that his 90th birthday is too early for this minority to become the majority, but future generations of Russians will surely recognize the extent of his accomplishments and honor the man who broke with an authoritarian and totalitarian past and more than anyone has done to end the Cold War.

Archie BrownArchie Brown is Professor Emeritus of Politics at Oxford University. His most recent book is The Human Factor: Gorbachev, Reagan and Thatcher and the End of the Cold War (Oxford University Press, 2020).

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