By Eric Jansson
One takes it for granted nowadays that great nations must reckon with the fabled balance between freedom and security. Well, our warring world has not exactly been waiting for him to weigh in, but at last we have a new perspective on this pesky balance problem from a man regarded by many as an epic champion of liberalism and peace: Mikhail Gorbachev.
And what shining words has he given us? Presenting his new book, In the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party, Mr Gorbachev has declared that he takes it all back.
"I have reviewed my values and made conclusions," he says, as quoted by Interfax news agency. These conclusions include one about Boris Yeltsin, who in 1991 delivered Russia from an eleventh hour return to hardline rule. Mr Yeltsin should have been sent into diplomatic exile, safely away from the real action around Red Square, he says.
What an extraordinary turnaround. Disarmed, aging and evidently drunk on the compliments he receives incessantly from adoring German lefties, Gorby decides to side with the very Brezhnevite coup plotters who had him kidnapped.
As for "separatists" – and within historical context one presumes he refers here to the democratically-elected leaders of the many nations brutalized under Soviet rule, among them the Baltics and Ukraine – they should have been "hit", treated like the "criminals" they were.
"I was too soft" is the essence of Gorby’s analysis. Yet his softness in the decisive hours of Soviet collapse is probably his record's primary redeeming feature – otherwise it was mostly a series of untenable tactical retreats from wildly unsustainable hardline positions.
Grotesque! To make matter worse, parroting Vladimir Putin, Gorby also says the collapse of the USSR was a "geopolitical catastrophe", when in fact the great catastrophe was the USSR itself, poisoned at its very root, Marx-Leninism.
Whatever good one could find in the Soviet system, it could have been had without the captivity of nations, the inhumanity and insanity of centralized rule, the enslavement of souls and the mass murder of perceived enemies. The good in Soviet power was, at the start, only the (false) expectation of vivid, transcendental democracy. Later, its good was found wherever the falseness crumbled and old hopes were accordingly re-exposed to daylight.
I suppose that Gorby forgets now, as so many others do, just how bad Soviet rule really was. He believes he should have rushed to preserve it. But had he done so, he and Raisa would have ended up like a couple of Ceaucescus, sprawled right around the corner of the Kremlin wall, over by the eternal flame, behind the pines.
One might write off his musings as a pensioner’s gibberish, except that Gorby retains – in some circles, anyway – a certain moral gravity. It is the kind of moral gravity you or I can freely share if we wish: the satisfying knowledge that we are virtuous because, when the chips were down, we didn’t shoot our rivals dead or exile them to the Gulag. You didn’t, did you?
Nonetheless, his moral gravity counts for something in a northern hemisphere that, today, thanks to democratic spirit in the east and consequent Soviet collapse, we can broadly describe as post-totalitarian. After all, it did count for something, in 1991, that Gorby didn’t shoot.
But what a profound comment he makes, by accident, about our current confusion about freedom, its balances and its benefits. One hates to think that, after all we have won over the past two decades, on the backs of so many brave and daring individuals, that an old lust for security can bring a feted champion of liberalism to misty-eyed reminiscence for the safer, jollier days of... Chernenko.
And what a profound comment he makes, by accident, about the way unprincipled liberalism risks cancelling itself out with pride and good intentions. It is as if Gorby would like to nullify his very self. God help Russia should she agree with him.