Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. 34 Years Ago Today: Politburo Selects Gorbachev as Soviet Leader

 

Thirty-four years ago today, the revolving door that had become the entry point to leadership of the Soviet Union stopped when Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party. On that day, he became the fourth Soviet leader in under three years (Brezhnev died in November 1982, Andropov in February of 1984, Chernenko on March 10, 1985). There hadn’t been such drama on the world leadership front since, well, the dramatic and unexpected selection of KarolJózef Wojtyła as Pope in 1978, after the 33-day tenure of Albino Luciani.

A little over six-and-a-half years later, on Christmas Day 1991, and severely compromised as the result of a coup a few months earlier, Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, resigned and handed over what was left of his power to new Russian President Boris Yeltsin. On December 26, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved and its Republics were handed their self-governance.

From news reports (one from the BBC, and one from ABC), it appears that, thirty-four years ago today, no-one saw this coming. Well, except, maybe, Maggie (perhaps it was womanly intuition) who said shortly thereafter, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.” By and large, a more perceptive and much more pragmatic observation than that George Bush the younger made years later about his sense of Vladimir Putin’s “soul.”

It’s a reminder to me of how fast things can change. And with what’s come after has been, of how fast things can change back. And it’s a reminder of what an exciting, hopeful, optimistic time that was, even if you were quite young, or didn’t follow world politics all that closely. Gorbachev. Reagan. Thatcher. John Paul II.

Whither Russia today? Do we know? And what about the rest of us?

Mikhail Gorbachev is 88 years old and a widower. He lives quietly outside Moscow and devotes most of his time to charitable causes. When asked recently about his “greatest weakness,” he responded that it lay in his democratic character:

“It lives inside me,” the former general secretary added. “I’m not just blabbering. During Perestroika, my credo was nonviolence. Respect for people. I can’t be rude.”

“I forgave a lot,” Gorbachev added in his more recent interview with Meduza when asked what he regrets in his life. Alexander Lebedev described his friend as follows: “He doesn’t change. He has the same marvelous sense of humor, he is just as self-critical, and he still believes that it’s possible to use ideology to change the world.”

Gorbachev at a Victory Day parade in Moscow. May 9, 2016

There are 11 comments.

  1. Percival Thatcher

    The gag before Gorbachev was announced was: what do you call a Soviet premier with a five-year plan?

    An optimist.

    • #1
    • March 11, 2019, at 6:31 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  2. Front Seat Cat Member

    When I lived in North GA mountains, I worked at a log home company. One of the real estate agents whose family were dairy farmers, up and decided to go to Russia for a vacation. While she was there, the coup unfolded – she was able to get out on a plane just as all hell broke loose. She came back with her hair dyed a light pink color. She went to a salon and they kind of goofed on the color, but she said they gave her a glass of wine. She stayed with a family in their tiny apt. and said they were the most friendliest people, who had very little but everyone was so excited to meet an American and were so generous.

    When we left the area, she gave me a globe as a gift – it has the Soviet Socialist Republics on it. They yearned for freedom like you said, and got a taste, but some things don’t change. It’s as though it all went underground and stewed and here we are. I thought Claire Berlinski’s book on Thatcher was very good and loved the part that included Gorbachev.

    • #2
    • March 11, 2019, at 10:28 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  3. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    When I lived in North GA mountains, I worked at a log home company. One of the real estate agents whose family were dairy farmers, up and decided to go to Russia for a vacation. While she was there, the coup unfolded – she was able to get out on a plane just as all hell broke loose. She came back with her hair dyed a light pink color. She went to a salon and they kind of goofed on the color, but she said they gave her a glass of wine. She stayed with a family in their tiny apt. and said they were the most friendliest people, who had very little but everyone was so excited to meet an American and were so generous.

    This part made me laugh. I was, not so long ago, in a salon in Thailand, getting my nails done and my hair cut. The young lady was very beautiful, and utterly charming. But I had to talk her out of some ideas that were, to say the least, somewhat inappropriate (although interesting to contemplate) for a 64-year old Western grandmother.

    At least, for this one. 

    • #3
    • March 11, 2019, at 10:45 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Hang On Member

    This article addresses both what the streets of Moscow were like in 1991 and Russia today (or at least in 2016). The Cold War is Over by Peter Hitchens, who was a correspondent in Moscow at the time.

    There is one view of what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a viewpoint from the west. The viewpoint of the Russians who were living it is just starting to come out. I’m not up on the literature so cannot say much more than that. 

    • #4
    • March 11, 2019, at 11:21 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  5. She Thatcher
    She Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):

    This article addresses both what the streets of Moscow were like in 1991 and Russia today (or at least in 2016). The Cold War is Over by Peter Hitchens, who was a correspondent in Moscow at the time.

    There is one view of what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a viewpoint from the west. The viewpoint of the Russians who were living it is just starting to come out. I’m not up on the literature so cannot say much more than that.

    Fascinating article, thanks. On a completely unrelated note, the last paragraph reminded me of a fine series of historical novels by Sharon Kay Penman, one of which is titled “When Christ and His Saints Slept,” about the twelfth-century monarchical mess in the UK.

    • #5
    • March 11, 2019, at 11:34 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Gary Robbins Reagan

    Gorbachev did not send in the tanks. For that he should always be praised as the man who broke the pattern. 

    He richly earned the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

    • #6
    • March 11, 2019, at 5:12 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    I remember Gorbachev graciously coming as a private citizen to the US for Reagan’s funeral. And I’m sure if it had been the reverse Reagan would have attended Gorbachev’s. 

    • #7
    • March 11, 2019, at 6:54 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Sweezle Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    This article addresses both what the streets of Moscow were like in 1991 and Russia today (or at least in 2016). The Cold War is Over by Peter Hitchens, who was a correspondent in Moscow at the time.

    There is one view of what caused the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a viewpoint from the west. The viewpoint of the Russians who were living it is just starting to come out. I’m not up on the literature so cannot say much more than that.

    TY. I want to believe every word in this article by Peter Hitchens. Trump appears to be open to working more productively with Russia on mutual interests. His predecessors certainly were. But until the Mueller Report is out and public there is no hope that will happen. 

     

     

    • #8
    • March 11, 2019, at 7:06 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Kozak Member

    Ol Splotch Top, the world’s greatest magician.

    Made the entire Soviet Union disappear….

    • #9
    • March 12, 2019, at 5:36 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Kozak Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    Gorbachev did not send in the tanks. For that he should always be praised as the man who broke the pattern.

    He richly earned the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

    Uh no. Reagan did. He’s the one who put us in the position to make sure Gorby knew using his tanks wasn’t an option.

    I joined the US military in 1978 when Carter was president. We were weak, and the emphasis was on “managers”. Lots of “simulator training” instead of actual flying training.

    In 1983 when I went on active duty, the change was electric. We were rapidly getting better, more and more real training. They wanted warriors in command, not managers. New high tech weapons started making their appearance which the Soviets had no answer to.

    By 1990 we were lightyears ahead of where we were in 1978. We were lean mean and more than ready to fight anyone, anywhere and confident we would kick their a##.

    And that change was due to Reagan.

    • #10
    • March 12, 2019, at 5:37 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  11. Basil Fawlty Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    Ol Splotch Top, the world’s greatest magician.

    • #11
    • March 12, 2019, at 4:29 PM PST
    • 2 likes