I’m a day late with this one – sorry.
Yes, I know he never officially renounced Communism, and he also blew it on the Chernobyl disaster, and he’s not very conciliatory to our country these days (can you blame him, really?) and I always wondered about that weird thing on his forehead (I saw a photo of him recently and I think he had it removed or something – I laughed my ass off when Leslie Nielsen wiped it off of the Gorbachev-parody-character’s forehead with a napkin in the first “Naked Gun” movie).
But you know what? Like it did for a lot of other people, it absolutely blew my mind when he got out of his limousine at West 50th Street and Broadway in New York City in December of 1988 to mingle with the crowd (I don’t know if that was staged or not, but it was amazing). And make no mistake – the “walls came tumbling down” in large part because he decided that it was stupid to continue to stand in the way of the Solidarity movement in Poland any longer.
The fact that he became leader of the former Soviet Union, after a procession of men running that country who were quite literally at death’s door most of the time, was something of a miracle. It was a groundbreaking change to see a Soviet leader who was young relative to his predecessors, inquisitive, and receptive to Western style market reforms (how receptive he truly was to democracy is something for historians to debate, I guess). And when he and Reagan engaged in détente, it helped solidify the reputations of both men on the world stage at a time when our 40th president was trying to recover from the Iran-Contra scandal and a dip in his popularity (sadly for Dubya, he will not be able to look forward to a similarly beneficial development).
One regret for me is that he did not lead Russia at a time when Clinton was president, because I think Gorby would have been able to mentor him to some degree. I always got the impression that Clinton was flying over to Russia every few months to prop up Boris Yeltsin, who for me was a mediocre world leader by comparison.
So, considering all of this, I’d like to take a shot and send greetings on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 75th birthday in his native language:
Ot vsey dushi pozdravlyayu i zhelayu vsego nailuchshego!
I hope that was close.
And by the way, I’m reserving judgment on this for now, though it makes sense, unfortunately.