Jeff Jacoby has written a great article about Gorbachev’s complicated life and legacy. It is not new information for those who have followed the Soviet Union’s last years, but it is still very well done. An excerpt:
Even though he couldn’t bring himself to admit the evils of communism to the surface, Gorbachev was able to ensure that the Soviet Union did not receive the tanks when Poland, East Germany Czechoslovakia Czechoslovakia Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria opted to leave the Soviet orbit. He was a liberator, that was his reason for so many prizes and awards.
However, he wasn’t a liberator…. [C]Not choosing to prevent mass murder and perpetuate slavery does not mean you are going to spare lives or be free from slavery.
And when it came to the former Soviet republics, Gorbachev’s attitude was far less enlightened…. Gorbachev was not prepared to send tanks and troops to subdue Warsaw and Prague, but he had no such qualms—at least at first—closer to home [in the USSR’s constituent “republics”].
“As early as 1986, nationalist protests in Almaty, Kazakhstan, were put down with a massive show of force,” recalled Leonid Bershidsky in a Bloomberg essay. “In April 1991, the Soviet military killed 21 protesters and wounded hundreds more in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi…. People were shot and killed while protesting in Dushanbe and Baku,” which are the capitals of Tajikistan and Azerbaijan respectively. In Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers moved directly into crowds of civilians demonstrating for freedom. Hundreds of protesters were wounded and at least 14 people — two of them teenagers — were killed.
Gorbachev had a low tolerance for killing, which was a good thing for the Soviet countries. Gorbachev was simply too good to rule over an evil empire.
Russian-speaking people will be pleased to know that Andrey Makarevich, then a teenager, has released “Give Lithuania back to the Lithuanians”, a song from 1991 which directly addresses Gorbachev; Makarevich, who is now a prominent critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can be found here. Here’s an attempt at translation.
To the blank pages of Russian Imperial history
Sometimes in ash and other times in gold are our years.
Mikhail Sergeevich, give Lithuania to the Lithuanians. [i.e., Gorbachev]
Although we can’t make you be kind, blood isn’t water.
It would be lovely, right, and worthy.
That is to say that by the most high decree, we grant you freedom
All riot officers should be given a medal bearing the Nevzorov portrait.
Give them a good dinner and let them go home.
There’ll be new skirmishes—trust me, they’ll find some reason,
Ryazan will be able to keep his steady hand. [presumably a reference to some then-current incident].
Free the Lithuanians—it will be credited and recorded for you
They are, however, just as valuable to us as trying to obtain milk from a billy goat.
Bagel holes will soon be gone, and bagels are out!
Trust in words can be caused by distrust in deeds.
A friendly neighbor is always better than an adversary in the form a “fraternal nation”
Free the Lithuanians—what have they ever done to you?
You can’t stoop if you are being asked about your eyes.
We might be a large family.
The family is unable to live indefinitely without the tanks that line the streets.
They do not have to pay anything for the air that they inhale, except sentences to hard work and lies.
It would be a great deal for me to know how this all ends.
Give them our blessing and let them go.
Let them smile in return—how I would like that!
Their smiles make us feel happier.
Gorbachev did what Makarevich requested. This is an important thing in this cruel century.