I don't like stuff written "on occasion", be this occasion a jubilee of something or an anniversary of someone. I doubt that the recent flood of half-baked — and usually self-serving — publications commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan or the 80th anniversary of Boris Yeltsin have added anything of substance to our understanding of the both.
On March 2, we're going to celebrate another "occasion": the 80th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev. Attempts to define his "role in history" – with the number of those expected to peak sometime next week — are already underway. Writing recently for the Novaya Gazeta (which Gorbachev happens to half-own), the leading member of the "limousine liberals" crew, Lilia Shevtsova, opined that Gorbachev has left behind "a new world and a new country that we (we who?) have yet to learn how to live in." Speaking of Gorbachev mostly in the past tense, Shevtsova called him "a symbol of new times." Unfortunately, according to Shevtsova, these new times haven't yet come to Russia. But this isn't Gorbachev's fault; it's "ours": arguing on behalf of all of "us", Shevtsova concluded her epic with the following:
"He was unlucky with us. But we're lucky with him. We just haven't realized this as yet."
(I don't know about you, but I feel like a freaking moron, undeserving of Gorbachev's generosity.)
Somewhat contradicting Shevtsova's messianic overtones, Gorbachev finds himself solidly in the present tense — as his latest public appearances suggest. Earlier this week, he presented Western media outlets with a precious gift: a scathing criticism of the ruling Medvedev-Putin "tandem." Gorbachev was outraged with the fact that Medvedev and Putin will decide among themselves who of the two is going to run for president in March 2012. "It's not Putin's business. It must be decided by the nation in elections…Can't other people also run?", were Gorbachev's exact words, according to the Associated Press.
Let me sort out certain things for Mikhail Sergeevich. According to the Russian electoral law, presidential candidates are nominated exclusively by political parties and then selected "by the nation in elections." In 2007, United Russia, a political party whose Chairman is Putin, nominated Medvedev. Later this year, the party will have to select a nominee again. Isn't it only natural that Putin and Medvedev, the two most influential public figures in the country, are going to take part in the nomination process? (American politicians do it differently: they make such fateful decisions after consulting with their families.)
And yes, other people can run too — if, of course, they manage to overcome the draconian barriers to register for the elections. In 2008, by the way, Medvedev had three opponents.
For a person who never in his life ran for public office, Gorbachev's confusion with Russia's electoral process isn't surprising. What is surprising is how fast Gorbachev — his poise, calm and courtly manners known to his friends and foes alike — has become an angry man. He seems to be angry at everything. He's angry at Putin and Medvedev for their "arrogance." He's angry at Vladislav Surkov, the deputy chief of the presidential administration, for a promise not to register Gorbachev's (non-existing) "social-democratic" party. He's angry at United Russia for being "the worst copy of the Communist party." He's angry at the Communist party (KPRF) for its inability to compensate for "the lack of social democracy." He's angry at the "ruling class" in general for their "wealth and lewdness."
People do change as they age. Some mellow; others, on the contrary, get more abrasive. What is interesting about Gorbachev's metamorphosis, though, is that he's increasingly sounding like the Novaya Gazeta, a newspaper Gorbachev has co-owned since 2006. Could it be that having invested money in the newspaper, Gorbachev has eventually come to share the political views of its authors? Or could it be that the crowd hanging around the Novaya Gazeta is simply using the the noble statesman as a mouthpiece to advance their agenda?
I'll leave it here. If not for any other reason than in respect to the occasion we all have on March 2.