I’ve just finished reading Moscow, December 25th 1991 by Conor O’Cleary. Twenty years on from the fall of the Soviet Union the book covers Gorbachev’s last day as President of a union of communist states, which in every practical way had already ceased to exist.
It is a great reminder that history is written by the victors, it’s just that on this occasion two parties were able to claim a ‘win’. Russia saw Boris Yeltsin as it’s victor in bringing the Soviet Union down and making way for a capitalist society. The West, particularly America, considered Gorbachev to be the hero in helping end the Cold War by bringing about free elections and freedom of speech.
This perception seem to have lasted: Gorbachev is held in high regard outside Russia, but you won’t find many people to sing his praises in the ‘Motherland’.
It’s a fascinating period of history and it’s plain to see that all the main protagonists had big egos: so much so that it left me feeling sorry for others who were involved, such as Eduard Shevardnadze who never really got the credit he deserved for Glasnost and Perestroika. It also left me wondering who the true brains of the reforms were given that Shevardnadze went on to become president of an independent Georgia, but Gorbachev was never really able to play an active role in politics again.
All that being said, we have to remember Gorbachev was the most liberal of communists: he gave people the rights and freedoms that had been denied to them for decades; he respected civil liberties and never resorted to using violence to control the people – which his predecessors had done in abundance.
This book is a great read and I would fully recommend anyone with an interest in communist history to buy it.