Mikhail Gorbachev in an interview with the FAZ in mid-September 2001 in Berlin.
Image: Frank Röth
Mikhail Gorbachev was honored by the Germans because he gave them the gift of reunification. His opponents could not forgive him for also sealing the end of the Soviet Union. He never wanted that.
uJudgments about historical personalities are reformulated by historians in (almost) every generation. This is particularly easy if the person has worked for a long time, because then many different aspects can be used. In the case of Mikhail Gorbachev, things are different in many respects. The politician who died this week at the age of 91 was really at the center of politics for only six years. Most of the judgments that have now been passed relate to a period of a good two years, from mid-1989 to the end of 1991. Basically, there is only agreement on one point: the former General Secretary of the CPSU and President of the Soviet Union actually meant well. Now that is about as devastating a verdict as the notorious formula from job references to have always tried very hard. But it would be a bitter injustice to Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce him to the phrase “well intentioned”.
Regardless of what future generations of researchers may unearth, it is fair to say that Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union at a time that the term “difficult” only inadequately describes. The mighty and at least partially magnificent facade of the superpower was still intact. In just the decade before Gorbachev took office in March 1985, Moscow had been able to expand its influence in many parts of the world while its American rival licked the wounds of its defeat in the Vietnam War. But internally, the consequences of the period of Leonid Brezhnev’s government, soon dubbed the “Period of Stagnation,” were making themselves felt. This in turn was a late consequence of the Stalin era. Brezhnev, a contemporary witness to the great terror of the 1930s, preached “stability”, by which he understood above all as little change as possible.