Gorbachev may be hero to West, but Russians don’t forgive

March 27th, 2009 - 9:26 am ICT by IANS  

By Alissa de Carbonnel
Moscow, March 27 (DPA) To many of today’s Russians, Communism is a hazy thing, referenced only in their parent’s stories and their own vague memories of the scarcity of the post-Soviet 1990s.

And with good reason. Despite the financial downturn, the current generation is living life at full throttle, crowding new Moscow shopping malls and planning vacations in Thailand. Perestroika and glasnost and the changes of the 1980s might as well have occurred in a different world.

Public conscious in the West draws a direct line between the freedoms enjoyed today and the fall of the Soviet Union. It affords a special place in the history books for Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who lit the match to the totalitarian system.

But when Russians are asked about Gorbachev and the reforms he initiated, the response is overwhelmingly negative.

Tatiana Kapranova calls herself a perestroika baby, born in 1985 - the year that Gorbachev became the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

“I remember going to the store with my mother and standing in line for ages and ages for bread, potatoes - scraps of everything … When we went to the World of Children’s store there were so many beautiful, shiny toys, but there was no way to buy any of them.”

She says those are her memories of the Gorbachev era. His reforms don’t enter the picture for her. And her feelings are shared by others of her generation.

“We fault him for all that. He has this negative aura … maybe it’s not right - but we hold him guilty,” said Elena Dobreva, 26, watching her daughter playing in a sandbox.

Many have argued the implosion of the Soviet Union was inevitable, though it is hard to imagine that turn of history without Gorbachev.

But his countrymen quite simply dislike him. He is seen as the man who uselessly relinquished Soviet superpower to the US and brought about a decade of economic and political chaos.

The so-called Putin generation consists of people like Kapranova and Dobreva who came of age under current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. While president, Putin famously called the collapse of the USSR the greatest geopolitical disaster ever to befall Russia.

Furthermore, he blamed that humiliation on Gorbachev.

Sixty percent of Russians regret the fall of the Soviet Union while 55 percent felt it was avoidable, a poll by the independent Levada Centre last year found.

“The feeling handed down from parents and grandparents is undeniably negative and the media and textbooks don’t often remember him. They gloss over the whole unpleasant episode,” Boris Dubin, head of Levada’s socio-political research department.

“The more rosy Putin’s era appears, the less people want to look back to that era of want,” he added.

But there’s a flip side. For every Russian angered by the changes brought on by Gorbachev, there’s a foreign correspondent or Russian analyst jealous they could not have been on hand to bear witness to Gorbachev’s era of cataclysmic change, when the Cold War stopped and borders were redrawn.

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