RIP Mikhail Gorbachev

The former General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is gone:

Alongside Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Gorbachev was a key protagonist in a global drama that many thought impossible and, for those who lived through it, seemed almost surreal.

Under Gorbachev, the Berlin Wall crumbled, thousands of political prisoners were released and millions of people who had known only communism got their first real taste of freedom. But he was unable to control the forces he unleashed — and ultimately waged a losing battle to salvage a crumbling empire.

Gorbachev died Tuesday at a Moscow hospital at 91.

My family business had extensive activity in what started out as the Soviet Union and ended up as the Russian Federation in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. There were strange moments such as Who’s this idiot? That’s me!, He is Prepared to Sign Anything and Half a Million Roubles. Is it Enough?. Neither the Soviet Union nor the company survived the era, but it was a way to see an important country in a new light, something that our so-called “experts” would have done well to do.

My Russian colleagues weren’t much impressed with the General Secretary. The Russians a) preferred a stronger leader and b) have a deep distrust of their government, an interesting combination which would have been a challenge for anyone. One thing he gets credit for that he probably doesn’t deserve is the “smooth” transition from the Soviet Union to what came after. I was always amazed at how life “went on” through the upheaval that was the end of the Soviet Union. I doubt that, when the time comes for our superpower to face the moment of truth, the transition will be that smooth. Americans are always trying to “do something” when it’s too late to do the “something” that they should have done a long time ago. The Russians, more used to major changes in government, were more phlegmatic and adaptable.

But, as the Russians say, may the ground be down for him.

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