Tuesday 7 December 2021

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev celebrates his 90th birthday

Revered for helping end the Cold War, Gorbachev received birthday greetings from the Kremlin and other world leaders. But back home, Russians remain divided over his legacy

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Q REPORTS – The former leader of the Soviet Union and 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mikhail Gorbachev, who has been self-isolating to protect himself throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and like the rest of us he is “tired” of coronavirus restrictions, turned 90 on Tuesday.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev spoke during the presentation of his book “I’m Still an Optimist” at a Moscow bookstore on October 10, 2017. AFP

Gorbachev presided over the Soviet Union during its collapse in 1991. He is best known for his efforts to modernize the Soviet economy and make its political system more transparent.

He championed arms control in the late 1980s and has been widely credited with helping end the Cold War alongside former US president Ronald Reagan.

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The former leader of the Soviet Union and secretary-general of the Communist Party is considered by some as one of the greatest reformers of the 20th century — but remains a controversial figure at home.

How did he celebrate his birthday?

Still active, Gorbachev heads a political foundation and co-owns the Kremlin-critical newspaper, Novaya Gazeta.

He celebrated his birthday while staying in a hospital as a precaution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Gorbachev was scheduled to have video calls with his aides and associates who gathered at his foundation to congratulate him.

He also spoke with world leaders and read messages from admirers worldwide.

What did world leaders say?

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World leaders including US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called to congratulate him.

“Your important contribution to a reunification in freedom remains as unforgotten in Germany as your constant personal engagement for friendly relations between our two countries,” Merkel said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Gorbachev in a letter published by the Kremlin, hailing him as “one of the most outstanding statesmen of modern times who made a considerable impact on the history of our nation and the world.”

Putin also praised Gorbachev for continuing to work on international humanitarian projects.

Former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev celebrates his 90th birthday.

How is he viewed in Russia?

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Thirty years back, he practically gave freedom to the Soviet Union and the peoples of Eastern Europe.

But while Gorbachev was very popular in the West, his economic reforms failed to improve the lives of many people in the Soviet Union.

“Each family has its own record of what happened with their wellbeing due to these radical reforms within the country,” says Mikhail Lipkin, director of the Institute of World History at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Gorbachev is regarded internationally for his role in helping end the Cold War and launching reforms that ended the Communist monopoly on power.

Pro-democratic forces also see him as a symbol of freedom, as he has criticized repression under Russian President Vladimir Putin and warned against falling back into a dictatorship.

However, many Russians still hold him at least partially responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union that led to a devastating economic meltdown and years of political turmoil.

Not every politician is lucky enough to visit the historic site of a peaceful revolution 25 years on. Gorbachev came to mark the anniversary at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on November 9, 2014.

How does Gorbachev view his own legacy?

Speaking in an interview with the state-run Tass news agency published Tuesday, Gorbachev reaffirmed that there was no alternative to ending the Cold War and launching domestic political reforms.

“The main domestic achievement was to give freedom to the people and put an end to the totalitarian system. And the most important things on the international stage were ending the Cold War and conducting radical nuclear weapons cuts,” he continued.

Gorbachev continues to lament the August 1991 hardline coup staged by the Communist Party’s old guard that briefly ousted him and precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Asked if it’s still possible now to restore the Soviet Union, he answered that it’s necessary to focus on normalizing ties with its ex-Soviet neighbors and developing regional alliances.

DW, AP

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