Monday, April 03, 2006

10 Questions for Mikhail Gorbachev

by Sally B. Donnelly
Time magazine

"America is intoxicated by its position as the world's only superpower. It wants to impose its will. But America needs to get over that. It has responsibilities as well as power... I think some people may be pushing President Bush in the wrong direction. I don't think the U.S. can impose its will on others. This talk of pre-emptive strikes, of ignoring the U.N. Security Council and international legal obligations--all this is leading toward a dark night."
-Mikhail Gorbachev

April 10, 2006

History will remember Mikhail Gorbachev as the leader who brought openness (glasnost) and economic restructuring (perestroika) to the Soviet Union, ushering it toward the end of communism. In Rhode Island last week to speak at the Carnegie Abbey Club, Gorbachev, 75, sat down with TIME's Sally B. Donnelly to talk about his new book, To Understand Perestroika, Russia under Vladimir Putin and life after the 1999 death of his beloved wife Raisa.

WHY DID YOU WRITE YOUR NEW BOOK ABOUT PERESTROIKA? We think the introduction of perestroika in the Soviet Union [in 1985] was one of the three most significant events in Soviet history--the others are the 1917 revolution and the victory in World War II. On the 20th anniversary, we thought it important to note it and explain it. And while there has been sharp debate in Russia about perestroika--many people have considered it a bad thing for the country--I think people are starting to change, and polls are showing people appreciate what it did for the country. Seventy-seven percent of Russians say they want to live in a free and democratic country. That is the legacy of perestroika.

WHO STILL THINKS PERESTROIKA WAS BAD FOR RUSSIA? The old ruling class, the former communists, veterans. I understand--they have very hard lives now. Life is very difficult for some in Russia today. But I want them to think about it again.

WHAT IS THE ROOT OF THE CURRENT DIFFICULTIES IN THE LIVES OF MANY RUSSIANS? [Former President Boris] Yeltsin ruined the country. He allowed the wealth of the country to be taken by a few people. And the West was never critical of Yeltsin. I think President Vladimir Putin is correcting the mess that Yeltsin made.

IS PUTIN ON THE RIGHT TRACK? Putin is trying to move toward more social-democratic policies--to improve health care, education and the like. But just as Russia is beginning to rise again, the West doesn't accept it. America is intoxicated by its position as the world's only superpower. It wants to impose its will. But America needs to get over that. It has responsibilities as well as power. I say this as a good friend of America.

THE U.S. SEEMS WORRIED ABOUT SOME ANTIDEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENTS IN RUSSIA, SUCH AS KREMLIN CONTROL OF THE MEDIA. The U.S. should be concerned about Russian domestic issues if Russians are concerned. Yes, the media are under some assault. There are some authoritarian methods being used. That is not in the interests of the people. Democracy is fragile.

DO YOU THINK WE ARE MOVING BACK TOWARD A COLD WAR? I think some people may be pushing President Bush in the wrong direction. I don't think the U.S. can impose its will on others. This talk of pre-emptive strikes, of ignoring the U.N. Security Council and international legal obligations--all this is leading toward a dark night.

IS CONDOLEEZZA RICE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE? Oh, I don't think so. She is a knowledgeable person, a person who knows Russia, a cultured person. She is one who is committed to political and diplomatic solutions. But she is having a difficult time. So did Colin Powell.

HOW HAS LIFE BEEN FOR YOU SINCE THE DEATH OF YOUR WIFE RAISA IN 1999? That is something I can speak about more calmly now, but for a while after she died, I thought there was nothing positive about life. I have learned how important family is. I spend a lot of time with my daughter Irina and my two granddaughters. They have busy lives, but we do things together like go out to restaurants.

ARE YOU ENJOYING LIFE? Yes, but there are some difficulties. Traveling is physically hard. And my [government] pension is only 40,000 rubles a month [about $1,400].

HAVE YOU PICKED UP ANY NEW HOBBIES? I have become really interested in fitness--my daughter encouraged me. I have a gym at home with a treadmill, a bike and weights. And I really love those elastic resistance ropes. They're great. We also like to cook. I love Russian food the most, but also Italian and Mediterranean. I am more involved as the theoretical director of meals, but when they are ready, I get involved at the consumption stage too. [Laughs] Then I have to explain to people why I can't lose weight.

Copyright © 2006 Time Inc.

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