September 2, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss the legacy of the late Mikhail Gorbachev. We also look at the creation of a uniform academic calendar for Jammu and Kashmir students, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
What Is Mikhail Gorbachev’s Legacy?
In the final episodes of the critically acclaimed series The Americans, Mikhail Gorbachev is mentioned several times as someone the KGB (Russia’s intelligence service) is trying to take down. While the show was fictional, it gave viewers a small glimpse of Cold War politics and its complications in the 1980s.
In the wake of his passing aged 91, his death comes at a striking time as we’re six months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and NATO gaining strength. As with any consequential leader’s passing, many offered their views and memories of Gorbachev. With that comes the talk of his legacy. Is he purely a liberator or someone more complicated?
Born in 1931 as Viktor to a poor peasant family, his grandfather renamed him, Mikhail. At the time, the Soviet Union was a one-party state ruled by Communist Party. The head of state was Joseph Stalin. Gorbachev’s maternal grandfather joined the Communist Party, and he later went on to become its Chair.
After the German Army invaded the Soviet Union in World War II, Gorbachev’s father enlisted in the Red Army. He applied to Moscow State University’s (MSU) law school and got in. Years later, Gorbachev and his wife Raisa Titarenko would join the Communist Party. The party was undergoing a change. Stalin was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced him and began a process of de-Stalinisation.
Gorbachev rose through the ranks, becoming First Secretary of the Stavropol city’s Komsomol (Soviet youth organisation) in 1956 and later First Secretary of the regional Komsomol in 1961. While he identified with the reformist policies of Khrushchev, they were stalling. Gorbachev became an important leader in the party, hosting delegations and travelling to other countries like East Germany and Bulgaria.
In the wake of party leader Konstantin Chernenko’s death in 1985, Gorbachev was proposed as the next General Secretary. He was unanimously elected by the members and was now the eighth (and final) leader of the Soviet Union. He was seen as a moderate in the eyes of the West. Domestically, he wanted to reform the country’s economy, which he saw as ailing. In his first speech as leader, he spoke of needing to radically restructure foreign policy. At the time, the Soviet Army was incurring heavy losses in the Afghan Civil War.
As he came into power during a period of Cold War with the United States, he wanted relations to improve. In 1985 he met with President Ronald Reagan at a summit in Geneva. The following year, they discussed a deal for global nuclear disarmament, but it didn’t come to pass.
As the world remembers Gorbachev, Raegan’s famous directive – “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” continues to linger (it was a call by Raegan asking Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall). For the West, it was the beginning of something great.
So what’s Gorbachev’s legacy, given the history and the current geopolitical dynamics?
VIEW: A reformer who tried his best
Gorbachev’s legacy is by no means a case of black or white. It’s complicated. However, any talk of his legacy will obviously centre around the end of the Cold War, as it should. As professor David R. Marples wrote, his role in it should be acknowledged, and his efforts to change a rigid system appreciated.
Given the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, his relationship with Putin wasn’t easy. In an essay for Time magazine in 2016, he called Putin and his policies an obstacle to progress. As many around the world grew concerned about Putin and his autocratic ambitions and tendencies, Gorbachev’s view was clear. He felt the Russian political class wanted less citizen participation in politics. He said it was impossible to hold democratic elections this way. Many Russians shared his view as the government clamped down on pro-democracy protests across Russian cities.
When Gorbachev came to power, he had some catching up to do with the West. He wasn’t that successful. But that didn’t necessarily mean disaster. As Miodrag Soric wrote, he loosened the shackles of repression and gave millions their freedom back. Echoing these sentiments is Reuters reporter Anatoly Verbin who said Gorbachev changed the course of the 20th century for the better.
From a global perspective, Gorbachev’s decisions have aged rather well. If not for him, much of Eastern Europe might still be under communism, and the Kremlin might still be in a dangerous Cold War or a nuclear arms race with the US. As author David A. Andelman wrote, without Gorbachev putting his country on a different path, there would be no independent Ukraine, and NATO wouldn’t have so many members. Both are seen as vital now. He also played an important role in solidifying ties with India. He and Rajiv Gandhi became friends. During his first Indian visit, Gandhi said, “When friends come calling, our hearts light up.”
COUNTERVIEW: Domestic disasters
Gorbachev’s admirers in the West can’t mask his errors back home. What’s striking about him is that he never stood for election. So, it’s not possible to say if he earned a popular mandate. When the republics of Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine gained nationalist feelings, he didn’t anticipate it. He wasn’t able to see why they wanted to be removed from Moscow’s grip.
Some historians say Gorbachev’s biggest failure was a fundamental misunderstanding of the Soviet Union, its society, and how it worked. His constant talk of reforming the economy was naive. The country he inherited wasn’t in the mood to follow his perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) policies. He misread the country’s feelings and was eventually outflanked by Boris Yeltsin, who dismantled the Soviet Union.
While he was awarded the 1990 Nobel Price for Peace for his role in ending the Cold War, at home, Gorbachev cut a frustrating figure to many. Just a year after the pinnacle of winning a Nobel Prize, he was forced to step down. His attempts to reform the country through diplomatic and economic openness were too fine a line for him to walk. Both communism and the Soviet Union came crashing down.
Perhaps his greatest failing was his own naivete. Everything from the collapse of the Soviet Union onwards can be traced to where the country is now. The end of the USSR was an economic disaster. As the political class under Yeltsin surrendered to the West, the oligarchs swooped in and gained control.
- Mikhail Gorbachev – President of Soviet Union (Britannica)
- Mikhail Gorbachev – Biography (Nobel Prize)
- A profile of former leader Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (CNBCTV18)
- Trip down memory lane with Mikhail Gorbachev (Telegraph India)
- Mikhail Gorbachev: Cold War Hero or the Man Who Lost the Empire? (E-International Relations)
- Mikhail Gorbachev: Putin Is an Obstacle to Progress (Time)
- Mikhail Gorbachev’s haunting words on what the world really needed (CNN)
- Mikhail Gorbachev failed and made the world a better place (DW)
- ‘Gorbachev Made it Possible for Me to Live the Life of My Choice’: A Reporter Speaks (The Wire)
- Mikhail Gorbachev’s tragedy – a flawed reformer on an impossible mission (Indian Express)
- The Last Leader of the Soviet Union (Frontline)
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy is a good one.
b) Mikhail Gorbachev’s legacy is a bad one.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
What Explains The Identical Statements Made By The Accused In Delhi’s Jahangir Violence Case?
For the Left:
The Gandhis Can Claim Credit For Another Big Exit
🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
‘Uniform Academic Calendar’ for schools (Jammu and Kashmir) – The Government of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir has introduced the ‘Uniform Academic Calendar’ for the current academic year. In accordance with the National Education Policy, the academic session for students of classes 10 and 12 has been shifted to the March Session. Theory examinations may also be conducted from the first week of March except in the difficult areas of the Jammu region.
Why it matters: Due to the varied weather conditions, Jammu and Kashmir had two separate academic calendars. While the sessions in the Jammu region used to begin in the months of April/May, those in the Kashmir region began in November. The government has now put a stop to this system.
Mizoram allows sale of local wine (Mizoram) – After it was prohibited in May 2019, the Mizoram government has decided to allow the sale of wine made from locally grown grapes across the State. The Mizoram Cabinet released a statement allowing the manufacture and sale of wine harvested by local farmers.
Why it matters: This decision comes after major protests were carried out in the state after the State Excise and Narcotics Department seized bottles of locally-made wine in May, leading to the death of a woman involved in the business. Local wine can be made and sold but under the provisions of the Mizoram Liquor (Prohibition) Draft Rules, 2022.
Plan to boost tourism in state (West Bengal): The government of West Bengal is gearing up for tourism development in the state. Seven panels have been formed, headed by experts in the hospitality sector. These panels are tasked with coming up with new ways to showcase the Durga puja in a way that’s as “spectacular and inclusive as the carnival in Rio.”
Why it matters: Minister Babul Supriyo stated that Bengal is aiming to be a one-stop destination for tourists. He said that a 10-day package to explore the Durga puja festival would be available for tourists along with a trip to Sundarbans. The minister claimed that Bengal ranks fifth in the country regarding the flow of domestic tourists.
Houses for ₹15 lakh to police personnel (Maharasthra): On the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, the Maharashtra government has decided to award ownership of houses to police personnel for ₹15 lakh. This comes as a part of the Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) Chawl redevelopment scheme.
Why it matters: Officials stated that all police personnel, working or retired and legal heirs of the deceased will be eligible for 500 square feet houses on an ownership basis at a cost of ₹15 lakh. The Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority (MHADA) would incur losses while the state government will foot 70% of the losses, described as a welfare measure.
Tender for labs for cybercrime (Tamil Nadu): The Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (ELCOT) has floated a tender for selecting a System Integrator (SI) which will be used to design, develop and establish forensic investigating labs for the Cyber Crime Wing of the state. The labs will be set up at 46 Cyber Crime Police Stations (CCPS).
Why it matters: The tender outlines the goal to procure hardware, software, training, and forensic tools that are required for the operation of cybercrime investigation labs. The CCPS is set to operate independently armed with the tools to carry out day-to-day investigations.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
7.6% – NSO survey reveals that the unemployment rate has decreased to 7.6% in April-June 2022 from 12.6% last year.