Meaning of tragic leader Gorbachev’s unfinished reforms

File photo of the Yomiuri Shimbun
Mikhail Gorbachev speaks during an interview in Moscow in 2009.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who died on Tuesday at the age of 91, initiated the end of the Cold War in a historic gesture at the end of the 20th century. However, the massive wave of reforms he endorsed brought about his downfall. His reforms were based on the principle of reconciliation with the United States and Europe, goals not shared by Russia today. The reforms ended unfinished due to the collapse of the state.

In 2009, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, I interviewed Gorbachev in his office in Moscow. We talked for about two hours, and his memory of a June 1989 visit to what was then West Germany left a particularly strong impression.

When asked what his view of a divided Germany was at the time, he recalled: “I thought it was a problem that would be solved in the 21st century.”

The Berlin Wall fell five months after Gorbachev’s visit and Germany was reunited the following year. Gorbachev recalled that the great wave “jumped with dizzying speed”, easily exceeding his own time frame when he was at the forefront of change.

The direction and speed of the big wave could not have been controlled.

Gorbachev stressed that the purpose of launching the perestroika reforms was to “strengthen socialism and achieve new developments”.

However, many people freed from oppression and fear of Communist Party power were galvanized by the unprecedented reforms and finally decided to overthrow the Soviet system.

In August 1991, Communist Party conservatives attempted a coup that ended in defeat within days. People rallied around the then President of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin, who called for the dissolution of the Soviet Union and then initiated it. Removed Gorbachev, an ill-fated leader who opened the door to reform but was left on the sidelines.

In Russia, under the administration of President Vladimir Putin, the Gorbachev and Yeltsin eras are considered to have weakened the nation.

However, Russia’s inability to stop the galloping invasion of Ukraine by its strong leader is causing a serious crisis within the international community.

I want to believe that the Russian people will again understand the importance of the principles enunciated by Gorbachev.