14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 3 September 2022 — Mikhail Gorbachev has died at 91 years old. Not that bad. The life expectancy of Russians in 2019, just before the pandemic, was eight years less than the average of people in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). If you decide to be from Korea, a member country of the institution, I advise you to be born in the furiously capitalist south, and not in the gloriously socialist north. On average, you will live 12 more years (80.5 vs. 68.8) and will be three centimeters taller (168.6 vs. 165.6). But I want to write about Gorbachev, “Gorby” for his friends, which he didn’t have too many of in Russia.
I visited Moscow three or four times during Gorbachev’s last period in the government and Boris Yeltsin’s first tenure. At that time, I was traveling as vice president of the Internacional Liberal — in the sense that term has in Europe — and as president of the Unión Liberal Cubana. I didn’t meet Gorbachev, although I had friends who did establish a certain friendship with him. Instead, I met Aleksander Yakovlev, his anti-totalitarian conscience and the person who most influenced him. So I can assure that the changes that took place in that tortured region of the planet were due to Yakovlev’s advice.
Yakovlev was a hero of the USSR. He lost a leg during World War II at the Battle of Leningrad, the largest siege in history (900 days). He was barely 20 years old. He was born in 1923 to semi-illiterate, albeit communist, parents in the small town of Korolyovo. He joined the Communist Party at 21 and rose to become the Central Committee’s head of National Propaganda. He knew every last detail of Marxism and began to suspect the Party. It led to the creation of parasitic structures that only served to sustain the leadership, and to give life to ridiculous attitudes such as chauvinism and nationalism. He published an article in 1972 in Literatunaya Gazeta denouncing these attitudes. Brezhnev, who ruled at the time, felt alluded to, and he got rid of Yakovlev sending him as ambassador to Canada. There he would not “harm” the “true” communists, the ones akin to Brezhnev.
Except that in 1983 Gorbachev visited Yakovlev and was dazzled. He was in Canada. He was a lawyer who was simultaneously an agricultural technician. He was the theorist he needed, Gorbachev thought, but he didn’t tell him at the time. There were several days of endless conversations allowed by Aeroflot’s everlasting failures. He articulated like nobody else the defense of glasnost, transparency, because all the economic reforms had already been tried: the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the era of Lenin until 1924, and Stalin until 1929, with few real results, except the initial ones. The virgin lands had been brought into production in the decade under Khrushchev’s rule, more than 300,000 square kilometers (1954-1964). The terror of public discussion and the consequences of popular debate had to be suppressed. In Canada things worked differently. It was a huge and frozen territory, similar to the USSR. Really, glasnost made the difference!
They were two idealistic communists. Both wanted to reform the system without destroying it. Yuri Kariakin, a philosopher and thinker, husband of economist Irina Zorina, an expert in Cuba’s issues, had told me that there was a type of communist, resistant to violence, among whom were Mikhail Gorbachev and, indeed, Aleksander Yakovlev. They wanted to convince their opponents, not defeat them. The history of Russia was full of men and women drenched in blood who had created the myth of the inability of Russians to be obedient to anything other than the threat of punishment.
Was Kariakin’s story true? I believe it. It’s a matter of time. I have already said that Gorbachev has died without the esteem of the majority of Russians. He is loved abroad. At the same time, Russian society is not willing to go back to collectivism and the one-party system without being tortured.
I read that Vladimir Putin will not attend Gorbachev’s funeral. He is a KGB man beyond redemption. He prefers to convey an image of a fierce man, an image of everything that Gorbachev and Yakovlev hated.
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