meeting gorbachev…

Last month, I watched an excellent television documentary on Bruce Chatwin, directed and presented by Werner Herzog. So, when I discovered that the Watershed were showing a documentary on former Soviet head of state Mikhail Gorbachev by Herzog (and André Singer), I felt I should see it.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Despite the slight ‘clunkiness’ of the interviews (due to delays in translation etc), it proved to be a fascinating reminder of a crucial time in world history, when Gorbachev – as the last leader of the Soviet Union – created and directed the country’s perestroika and glasnost reforms. Gorbachev (who’s now 88 years old) served as head of state from 1985 until 1991 and, by the early 1990s, was instrumental in leading the country towards social democracy. He brought unprecedented openness to government, put nuclear disarmament on the international agenda and allowed Eastern Europe to escape the stranglehold of Moscow.
In spite their massive political differences, Gorbachev achieved unlikely, but hugely important relationships/dialogues with Western leaders (eg. Reagan, George HW Bush, Kohl and Thatcher) – including striking landmark nuclear arms control agreements. He was far more respected abroad than he was at home (where many Russians apparently continue to blame him for the break-up of the Soviet Union). You will no doubt recall that, in late 1991, he was “ousted and the dismantling of empire fell into less scrupulous hands” (in the words of the Watershed’s blub)… a certain politician by the name of Boris (Yelsin, in this instance) comes to mind!
The film describes Gorbachev’s rural upbringing (born of peasant parents), his brilliant youth and his improbable rise from the provinces to the centre of Soviet political life… and his wife Raisa (who he clearly adored).

It’s a moving portrait of Gorbachev’s humanity (his triumphs, hopes and regrets) and his profound historical impact (and an important examination of the decline of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain). The story is also something of a political tragedy – trying to change a system and integrate it with the West. In Gorbachev’s words: “We wanted to have democracy in our country, and we made progress in that. But we didn’t get to finish the job, as certain forces took control of state power and property. These forces didn’t want democracy; it didn’t suit them”.
But, for me, I think the most powerful quality that came across was Gorbachev’s statesmanship… something which, given the attitudes of many of the current world leaders (no names!), is sadly lacking in this 21st century world – where ‘power politics’, ego and personal ambition seem to matter far more.
Well worth seeing – if only as an alternative to following the depressing daily claims and counter-claims of our current General Election campaign!

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