The symbolism of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death

Luba Kassova | September 02, 2022
The symbolism of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death The symbolism of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death

It is Mikhail Gorbachev’s funeral tomorrow. His death this week knocked me for six. My life would have been so much more restricted had it not been for this man. Although some argue that the corroded communist regime was ready to fall, and that if Gorbachev did not come to power, it would have collapsed regardless, I don’t think so. With the power of hindsight, I see the pivotal role that Gorbachev played in history as a leader. Going through the global leaders in my mind since then I realise how special he was. A visionary. Seeing how lodged in the repressive communist regime North Korea still is, I feel even more grateful to Gorbachev for the avalanche of positive change he triggered.

I was a child when Gorbachev came to power. Many (older) Bulgarians who know me would argue that I should not complain about my life then. And I don’t. I was among the 1 to 3 percent of Bulgarians who were allowed to travel. By the time Gorbachev came to power I had lived in three continents and four countries. I was privileged because of my dad’s work as a diplomat. I am deeply grateful for these opportunities. Yet… while I was abroad, I had only seen my friends from the international school I attended outside of school setting once, and my dad had to ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for permission for me to go to the social event, accompanied by 2 young diplomats supervising. Had it not been for Gorbachev I would not have tasted the intoxicating joy of having free speech, free thought and free movement. I would never have studied in England, had my multi-racial family and a job that is anchored in freedom of expression. I am deeply grateful to Gorbachev for the Perestroika and Glastnost he started which toppled a rotten regime keeping everyone suitably repressed and mediocre. Yes, it was painful to find out about the millions of killed people in Russia and Bulgaria during communism; to go through hyperinflation, empty supermarket shelves and 3-hours-on-3-hours-off electricity regime, but boy, was it worth the pain.

When I told my children that Gorbachev had died they didn’t know who he was. That added to my sadness. He was such a significant figure in my life and the lives of millions of people from the countries on the eastern side of the iron curtain. And he was also the last colossal politician who was able to build bridges between seemingly irreparably polarised societies. And now he’s gone. There is no living politician I can think of that can build these - much needed - bridges in a world tearing itself apart. The global political leadership vacuum hurts and is dangerous. As for Russia, it’s suffering through the control-and-command leadership of Gorbachev’s antidote and that is far reaching and tragic. Reading about the repressions in Russia, the killed businessmen, the demoralised brutal army causing immeasurable suffering in Ukraine is unfathomable from the perspective of my youth. A lesson learnt. A realisation that progress is not linear. It’s more like a pendulum. I am waiting to see that pendulum swing forward again.
RIP Mikhail Gorbachev. An extraordinary man. Brave. A giant. Thank you…

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