An Angry Man With A Newspaper

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 Shevtsovaopined 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.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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22 Responses to An Angry Man With A Newspaper

  1. Well, I had a lot of respect for MSG at the time, and there’s no doubt he did mighty things (if you disagree, think about Viktor Grishin chosen as GenSek CPSU in 1985 — as he almost was, we are told. He died BTW in 1992) but time has moved on.
    Yes, Russian politics are pretty blah — I personally wouldn’t like to have my only voting choices to be United Russia (a mere pedestal for the statue of the Boss) the KPRF and LDPR (and what answers do they have to anything that concerns Russians today?).
    But why can’t all these whiners realise that they have to do it themselves — get together, pick a leader, pick a program, sell yourself to the population, put in the effort, get organised, do the hard work. Yabloko could have been the base — it had name recognition, presence across the country but Yavlinskiy couldn’t bear to include anyone who wouldn’t worship him.
    And so, here we are — vote for UR or nobody.

  2. Eugene says:

    Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m absolutely with you on this one.
    Gorbachev might be mad at Surkov, but not for the reason he puts forward. The real reason is that Surkov told MSG the obvious: that in today’s political market — with Just Russia and Yabloko — there is simply no space for one more “social democratic” party. The only way Gorbachev and Lebedev could have registered their party was if Surkov agreed to ignore this simple fact that the duo doesn’t have the required 50,000 signatures. Surkov apparently has refused to help with “administrative resources”, and MSG suddenly realized the lack of democracy.

  3. Igor says:

    Hi, Eugene
    I like this post. If I were to summarize it, it would be:
    [Gorbachev had paved a way to building of “..a new country that we have yet to learn how to live in”. So it is not surprising that he complains now because there is no place to live for anyone until they “learn” how to do it. Surprising is the fact that not everyone does. ]
    And if I may offer my opinion why some people complain rather than do something – it is either that they want a compensation or they do not have such a powerful constitutional tool to protect their right to be heard as eg. the Americans have 🙂

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Hi Igor,
    I have certain respect for Gorbachev: he just refuses to quit. (As opposed to Yeltsin who looked larger than life, but then faded away completely). And I can’t deny him his right to change political opinions (I’m guilty of the same).
    What I can’t allow him to do is to change facts. Read his NG interview (linked to “angry at everything” in the text). You’ll be surpirsed to know that at Gorbachev’s times, we had in Russia: freedom, democracy, state institutions, etc. And those two bastards — Putin and Medvedev — have ruined everything. Not my memory exactly. When reading, also enjoy how two interviewers, Muratov and Benediktov, provoke him to harsh statements.

  5. Mark says:

    Patrick Armstrong personifies, to me, what I could be if only I had a brain. I agree completely; I, too, liked Gorbachev quite a lot when he was the big cheese of Russia. But, although few would say I’m any bright spark now, I was an absolute boob then, and ate up what was pitched to me by the popular press, which seems to be invested in keeping people ignorant to a degree. Mikhail and Raisa were the sparkling darlings of the western press – he bold and decisive and willing, at long last, to commit his country to playing the west’s game; she self-effacing but nonetheless fascinating to western women, who believed their Russian counterparts were all big strapping pink-cheeked collective farm peasants with a tractor wheel in the right hand and a squealing piglet under the left arm. I believed what he planned to do was best for Russia, and it probably was. But I believed for the wrong reasons; because the media told me to.
    Patrick is also characteristically incisive in his appraisal of Gorbachev now, and the absurdity of the “reformists” anger. There is nothing stopping them from winning the support of the people – nothing, that is, except their utter lack of a plan that will make the connection between the two boxes that say “Russian people elect liberals with a mandate for reform and “Double happiness all around”. It’s breathtakingly easy to articulate what you think is wrong, and the desired end state – Christ, I could do that, do you think I should run? It’s even easier to criticize the government for failing to achieve your desired end state. But when you get to the mechanics of how you’re going to get from here to there, in a manner the voter can understand and will concur with – that’s where we run into a snag. And, “Of course I have a plan – I just can’t tell you, because the government will steal it and romp to victory on my idea” won’t cut it.
    Excellent and perceptive post, as usual, Eugene. You got it going on.

  6. Leo says:

    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.”
    Do you disagree that UR is the new CPSU, but worse since it has no ideology? Do you disagree that KPRF is an unreformed party of waning nostalgic electorate? Do you agree that Abramovich could scale down his yachts by a factor of ten in size and quantity?
    All the best,

  7. Luis Alcalá says:

    I have always surprised the appearances and Gorbachev declarations. Normally on having had the human beings a very short life, we tend to exaggerate what happens in our brief life time and rarely we look at the historical facts with perspective of centuries that is, like minimum, as it is necessary to observe them.
    The dismemberment of the USSR has been one of the most important historical facts of last centuries, with a few very clear culprits from my point of view Gorvachev and Yeltsin, and in this Forum there are more people that know more about it that I.
    Gorbachev is one of the principal culprits of the disaster, he negotiated badly with USA and the EU, now there are American bases in Poland, he lost territories that had been russian for more than 300 years, he has made inconmesurable damages to Russia and also to most of the populations of the new republics who have suffered millions of premature deaths for famine, less births, even some civil war, The populations of Central Asia live worst that when they were part of the USSR, their elites of course not, bribed by USA and the EU, between others.
    In short Gorbachev, with Yeltsin fundamentally, has destroyed the heritage of more than 300 years, he has been one of the most disastrous leaders of Russia of the history and this way the future generations will see it, and, fortunately, this way the Russian people sees him, while he is acclaimed in Berlin, we might say “say to the one whom the Germans acclaim and I will say to you who enemy of Russia is”.
    For it it seems incredible to me that this man dares to say nothing about politics after being one of the biggest political disasters of the history, seems so amazing to me as those who speak about Estonia or Kazastán as if there were a countries historically independent similars to England or Spain: if Virginia was fifteen years independently that it would give to him right to be perpetually independent ? I believe that not, that Virginia belongs to the United States for ever.
    That the party ” Russia united” increasingly seems alike to the PRI of Mexico is another topic, but after the chaos that precisely Gorbachev created, the first thing that Russia needs is order, as said Goethe “I prefer the injustice to the disorder“ the bad thing is when you have both things as in some countries.

  8. Giotoo from Russia says:

    The author of the rights, but is very tolerant …
    In Russia there is only one relation to Gorbachev: “Burn in a hell… The traitor, you – has sold the people”… And you Americans be not humiliated to respect for this person… Regardless of the fact that it for America has made

  9. Eugene says:

    Thanks Mark,
    When reading your comment, I was reminded that of a few biggest brains that I met in my whole life, two happen to belong to bodies living in Canada: yours and Patrick’s. Comes with the territory?
    As I said elsewhere, I have no problem with people changing their ideological views; my own aren’t set in stone. What troubles me is that — plainly speaking — Gorbachev is being manipulated by the NG crowd. And this is a sad conclusion of the otherwise memorable life.
    Thanks for your nice words.

  10. Eugene says:

    CPSU needed ideology for export. UR doesn’t have any messianic desires to export its “conservative liberalism” anywhere. You substract this and the result is bureacracy staying in power. Do you need any special ideology for that?
    100% agreed on KPRF.
    As for the yachts, this is for Abramovich and Dasha Zhukova to decide:)

  11. Eugene says:

    Dear Giotoo,
    Thanks for your comment. One thing is clear to me: in both countries, Russia and the United States, people could be more tolerant and respectful to each other’s views. Heated rhetorics rarely produces cool results.
    Do come back!
    Best Regards,

  12. Eugene says:

    Dear Luis,
    Thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I feel you’re way to harsh on Gorbachev. You implicitly argue that if Gorbachev did something differently, the result would have been different. I disagree. The Soviet Union collapsed under its own weight, and this wasn’t Gorbachev’s fault.
    I do agree that certain things could have been done better, like negotiating Russia retreat from Europe. Well, Gorbachev was too naive to believe everything he was told by the Western leaders.
    However, I think too few people credit Gorbachev (and Yeltsin actually too) with the fact that the collapse of the Soviet Union was largely peaceful. Gorbachev had all the means (and was pushed by some hardliners) to use force in many cases. He refused. Speaking in current terms, he could play Qaddafi, but he prefered to play Moubarak. Good for him! Nothing, including empires, justifies, IMHO, spilt blood.
    Best Regards,

  13. Igor says:

    I read the interview. I don;t change my summary 🙂
    There is a question of how much a man should be blamed for failing the task which then was found to be above his skills & abilities? I also sometimes change my views – eg. now I believe that it is better to fail trying to serve the country, than succeed in making the country to serve you.

  14. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Nicely said.
    It’s amazing: I felt like people would accuse me in being hard on Gorbachev. Now, I’m almost compelled to defend him…
    But let me ask you this question. When saying: “it is better to fail trying to serve the country, than succeed in making the country to serve you”, the first part apparently refers to Gorbachev, correct? What about the second? Are you speaking of Gorbachev or OTHER Russian leaders?

  15. Luis Alcalá says:

    Dear Eugene, thanks for your answer . I agree with you usually at all, but I think that in key moments for a country is very important to find a man to the high of the circumstances, England found him in Churchill in WWII, but Gorbachev don´t was Churchill he was more similar to Eden after Munich agrrements.
    Of course Gorbachev don´t was the only cause of the fall of the URSS ( you know a lot about it ), but , excuse me, I think really that all would be different with a real man of state. You can´t to stop a river but can change his course.
    I remember the phrase of an ukranian member of the ukranian republic gobernment in the URSS before the fall. ¿ Why we are going to be independent if we are not guilty of nothing ? The independence was a punishment of Moscow for him .¡!

  16. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Dear Luis,
    I’d definitely agree with you that Gorbachev isn’t Churchill. On the other hand, it’s difficult to compare Churchill’s leadership during the war with Gorbachev’s task of a peaceful dismantling of Communism. Now, again, I agree that he made a lot of foreign policy mistakes. But he didn’t have any real foreigh affair experience: as a member of Politburo, he was responsible for the agriculture.
    Yet, I can only repeat that huge credit must be given to him for not letting the country slip into civil war. Whatever he did or didn’t, there were no serious human causalties. Compare this to our modern times when every passing day witnesses dozens of people killed for no reason.
    Best Regards,

  17. Poppy says:

    Folks, let’s face it.
    Gorby is simply trying to earn his bob.
    As he’s of no use to Mr. Putin and ER cohorts,
    opposing the powers is possibly the only way to propose himself to those who may pay.
    Ah, anyway it’s better than pizza ads.
    “It’s economy, stupid” (c)

  18. Quetzalcoatl says:

    And I thought Gorbachev had a comfortable retirement. What about Yeltsin’s daughters? They were caught stealing from Russia’s IMF relief funds. They were also given credit cards with gigantic limits from a Swiss bank. Do they still live in London?

  19. Luis Alcalá says:

    Dear Eugene .Again I´m agree with you but when Yeltsin bombed the parlament were deaths and after Gorvachev´s errors the civil wars in Central Asia, the famine, the disminution of births, the incremention of premature deaths for alcoholism, no unemployment, etc, all take off a lot of human lives, in my modest opinion, in part by their errors .
    So his merit ( of Gorvachev ) is very, very limited and their sins a lot.
    To be ignorant of an item isn´t an excuse is another sin, because then you have to hear to specialists in that item.
    May be that as another folks said here, only wants to win more money, because , unfortunately, in the West is respected and pay a lot of money for their conferences.
    I had serious dicussions with spaniards about this item.

  20. Eugene says:

    Dear Luis,
    Well, I feel we must “split the difference”, as they say. When speaking about such monumental events as the collapse of Communism and the SU — and such complex historical figures as Gorbachev and Yeltsin — the proverbial glass always oscillates between being half-full and half-empty. We have to agree to disagree on that.
    As for Gorbachev being paid, as Poppy pointed out, Poppy is right. Gorbachev is one of the most sought after and well paid lecturers on the circuit. However, in contrast to some other folks, Gorbachev easily admits that arguing that all the money go to finance activities of his Fund. At least, no one can accuse him in having a lavish life style.

  21. Igor says:

    Hi, Eugene
    I appreciate the way you express your disagreement 🙂
    You don’t really need to defend Gorbachev from me – it is not necessary.
    One, I can sign under almost everything he *said* in the interview – including what he said were his ”achievements” – freedom of speech, freedom of travel and some such. That – remembering how much of what he was saying he was able (see below) to actually *do* 🙂 & understanding that, then, at that time, sooner or later there would have been someone who would have done all this.
    Two – Do I have the right to blame him for ..ahem … not suffering from the excessive personal courage? Certainly, not – because he is what he was born. But do I have to respect him? Considering, that it was a country & 250 M people that *he felt himself fit* to lead? No. And – No again. He thinks that in his position his attending to his “sick” wife was more important than attending to the needs of the sick country? God bless his heart – and God will (probably) forgive him.
    Your questions.
    I think with the above I answered your questions too – with all his faults, I certainly, do not believe that Gorbachev ever intended to make the country to serve him (or worse – his friends). And so that you won’t think I am shying off to answer direct questions – “yes” –“Gorbachev” for the first part, and “yes” – each and everyone of the others after him. The impersonal “you” in the phrase actually meant the impersonal “ you and your friends”. And – thank you – I also think it was a good phrase.
    Maybe there is “public” interest in writing separate full-size blog entries on the occasion? – Gorbachev’s 80 years alive and how valid is the statement “ it is better to fail trying to serve the country than to succeed in making the country to serve you (and you friends)” ? Because I see how eg. you may express your disagreement with the statement, and there is a lot I can say in reply (all arguable too) – eg.
    a) America’s “democratic” success was mostly due to the Second Amendment, and not the First as it is commonly believed (and presented in the official propaganda).
    b) it is impossible to serve people without constantly listening to what they want. And people’s perception of what they want does change – that is the real meaning of the First Amendment (or “democracy” ) – it is not just an abstract freedom to elect someone. This is the difference between (even well-meaning) dictatorship & the “democracy” – the first one is rigid and so will become a hindrance when the society progresses. Besides, the former can hear only “complaints” of what is wrong with the existing system , while the latter is capable of development.
    c) The “honor” or “pride” or that one something immaterial which makes the system – or economy – really work. That money do not solve problems – at best they reveal them. And again – the honor and pride of “capitalists”… what it really means… for the rest of the population…And when the capitalists are your “friends” and “you” are the President..
    d) Capitalists = thieves = robbers – even according to M. Friedman 🙂 [want a quote about maximizing the profits being the only moral duty of a capitalist? 🙂 ] It is impossible to build a prosperous society of robbers unless there is a constant supply of those to be robbed. Once the supply runs out – you are there.
    You see how long the discussion can be? Certainly not for the comment section.

  22. Eugene says:

    OK, I feel we can pause for now and see what other people have to say on the same “occasion”:)

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