Mikhail Gorbachev: Perestroika Lost





[Mikhail Gorbachev was the leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991. This article was translated by Pavel Palazhchenko from the Russian.]

PERESTROIKA, the series of political and economic reforms I undertook in the Soviet Union in 1985, has been the subject of heated debate ever since. Today the controversy has taken on a new urgency — not just because of the 25th anniversary, but also because Russia is again facing the challenge of change. In moments like this, it is appropriate and necessary to look back.

We introduced perestroika because our people and the country’s leaders understood that we could no longer continue as we had. The Soviet system, created on the precepts of socialism amid great efforts and sacrifices, had made our country a major power with a strong industrial base. The Soviet Union was strong in emergencies, but in more normal circumstances, our system condemned us to inferiority....

PERESTROIKA, the series of political and economic reforms I undertook in the Soviet Union in 1985, has been the subject of heated debate ever since. Today the controversy has taken on a new urgency — not just because of the 25th anniversary, but also because Russia is again facing the challenge of change. In moments like this, it is appropriate and necessary to look back.

We introduced perestroika because our people and the country’s leaders understood that we could no longer continue as we had. The Soviet system, created on the precepts of socialism amid great efforts and sacrifices, had made our country a major power with a strong industrial base. The Soviet Union was strong in emergencies, but in more normal circumstances, our system condemned us to inferiority....

By the turn of the century, the country was half destroyed and we were facing chaos. Democracy was imperiled. President Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election and the transfer of power to his appointed heir, Vladimir Putin, in 2000 were democratic in form but not in substance. That was when I began to worry about the future of democracy in Russia.

I understood that in a situation where the very existence of the Russian state was at stake, it was not always possible to act “by the book.” Decisive, tough measures and even elements of authoritarianism may be needed at such times. That is why I supported the steps taken by Mr. Putin during his first term as president. I was not alone — 70 percent to 80 percent of the population supported him in those days.

Nevertheless, stabilizing the country cannot be the only or the final goal. Russia needs development and modernization to become a leader in an interdependent world. Our country has not moved closer to that goal in the past few years, even though for a decade we have benefited from high prices for our main exports, oil and gas. The global crisis has hit Russia harder than many other countries, and we have no one but ourselves to blame....

What’s holding Russia back is fear. Among both the people and the authorities, there is concern that a new round of modernization might lead to instability and even chaos. In politics, fear is a bad guide; we must overcome it.

Today, Russia has many free, independently minded people who are ready to assume responsibility and uphold democracy. But a great deal depends now on how the government acts.


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Arnold Shcherban - 3/22/2010

<By the turn of the century, the country was half destroyed and we were facing chaos. Democracy was imperiled.>
Yes, we know that, but how did that happen and who is responsible for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, destruction of the economy, outpouring of its financial and human resources and unprecedented impoverishment of its population in the short course of 5-6 years?
Wasn't it the same "democrat" Eltsin and the folks he surrounded himself with?
And how about the fatal mistake of disbanding Warsaw military
block foolishly believing the clearly
empty promises of the US not to expand
NATO to the Eastern Europe, which by itself put today's Russia in practically indefensible strategic position?
Who's to blame for that one?
Unfortunately, we don't find answers to the above critically important for historians and analysts questions in Mr. Gorbachev extra-concise description what went wrong in Russia, but not how it went so wrong...

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