Sunday, March 3, 2019

What ‘Pravda’ Would have Said on Gorbachev’s 88th Birthday had He Not Changed Russia and the World

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 2 – Today, on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 88th birthday, Russian commentators, politicians and people are remembering him, with their assessment of the man positive and negative in correspondence with their views about the enormous changes his actions made possible or at least did not prevent. 

            (For a selection of this rich variety of commentary, see among others,,  and especially the large selection at

            But perhaps the most useful remarks are those of St. Petersburg economist Dmitry Travin who imagines in  a Rosbalt article what the still-Soviet Pravda would have written on this day had Gorbachev not acted or not acted in the ways that he did while still CPSU leader (

            “On this day,” Pravda would have written, Travin suggests, “our entire multi-national Soviet people and all progressive humanity mark the 88th birthday of the outstanding statesman, true Leninist, and tireless fighter for peace, Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. For 34 years the general secretary of the CPSU and chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Comrade M.S. Gorbachev has been leading us along the path of the perfection of developed socialism.”

            As Travin puts it, “it is horrifying even to think that this lead article could have been today’s Russian reality. It is horrifying to think that instead of an open conversation about our life, we would have to fill it with ritual phrases, thus leaving serious issues for kitchen conversations.”

            For that, the economist continues, he is “grateful to Gorbachev,” but at the same time, his view like those of most thoughtful Russians and others is more complicated.  Gorbachev did not intend to produce the changes that have occurred good and bad; he had other goals – and in many respects, Russians can be glad that he failed to achieve them.

            He did not plan to give rise to a market economy, and he did not want to give anyone liberal freedoms. Instead, he wanted “socialism with a human face. Russia has not had socialism or a human face for a longtime, “but that process which Gorbachev set in train gave us freedoms which still haven not been entirely taken away.”

            Gorbachev did not know what his policies would lead to. He expected one thing but discovered others. But instead of trying to go backwards, at least most of the time, he allowed the results to set the stage for yet additional moves.  And the result of that approach is what we have now.

            “It is difficult to be grateful [to Gorbachev] for the mistakes and failures” he was responsible for and “for the political manipulation” he engaged in. But one can only be grateful beyond measure to Gorbachev “for what occurred as a result of his activity.” There isn’t the old Soviet Union with its repression but a new Russia with its possibilities.

            Gorbachev has lived through these changes and may he continue to live for many years, Travin says. “But already today we can say that this is not so much an individual with his weaknesses, mistakes and misconceptions as a great era which overturned our world despite the weaknesses, mistakes and misconceptions of the specific individual.”

            That of course is how history always is made, a path in which “the changes which devour their creators nonetheless give new life for their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren,” Travin concludes.

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