[L.E]Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-2022)

Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the most impressive world leader I have met (1986). He had huge hands and his handshake memorable. I was then representing UNEP and we exchanged ideas on the need for environmental action, through interpretation only (Russian/English) except for my final word to him of ‘spaceba’ (thank you).

Later, after he retired as President,Mikhail Gorbachev was to create two environmental organisations, namely Green Cross International & the Climate Change Task Force (CCTF).


In the mid-1980s Mikhail Gorbachev burst on to the political stage in USSR with his

calls for PERESTROIKA (“restructuring”, an attempt to democratize the Soviet political systems with multicandidate elections, as well as the secret ballot  in some elections to party

and government posts. Under perestroika, some limited free-market mechanisms were introduced.

And GLASNOST (‘openness”, namely freedoms of expression and of information with the press and broadcasting systems allowing unprecedented freedoms in their reporting and criticism).

Gorbachev launched his course of fundamental reforms aiming to make the Soviet Union a more humane and acceptable member of the world community. Very soon it became clear that the process of perestroika was hardly reversible even in case of Gorbachev’s sudden death or resignation. As Condoleezza Rice noted back then, “It would be hard for anyone who replaced Gorbachev to put all that back into the bottle.”

The Chernobyl tragedy in 1986 was a terrifying reminder that any sort of nuclear attack might destroy the whole of human society. The consequences of the Chernobyl disaster indicated the need for glasnost and precipitated Gorbachev’s decision of arms control and disarmament.

He was especially revered in the West and among some Russians for bringing down the curtain on the brutal, oppressive Soviet system and ending the tense years of the Cold War that had brought the world to the brink of a nuclear confrontation.

But some Russian hard-liners (Putin? and others) reviled him for the very same thing, damning him for allowing the dissipation of the power of the Soviet Union.

Those divisions were heightened by the fact that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has reversed much of Mr. Gorbachev’s legacy of peaceful engagement by invading Ukraine and by taking Russia itself down the very authoritarian path that Mr. Gorbachev had started to dismantle.

From 86 to 89, at every visit, every 6 months, I perceived a slow but perceptible series of changes in East German society.

In 1989 in Berlin, late night meetings were taking place particularly in Churches (which unlike in the USSR, had not been turned into museums) to discuss the future or plan escapes to the West. As a foreign UN official I was a good source of information and at times of advice, though being careful to maintain  professional neutrality, so important to the United Nations. In March 1989, I gave a long interview to an East German paper (published in German in Neue Zeit) about the need for precise statistics about air, land and water quality in the German Democratic Republic, democratic only in name of course! This type of article would have been unthinkable just three years earlier but it was helped by Gorbachev’s bold Glasnost (transparency) policy.

Leader across the planet which have in my view attained emeritus stature of leadership are Mandela with his great “concern for truth”, the Dalai Lama, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 

for his reforms, US leaders Abraham Lincoln and JFK, the incomparable Mahatma Gandhi

for achieving reform peacefully, with non-violence, Jawaharlal Nehru, Winston

Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, and Mikhail Gorbachev !

Dr Michael Atchia

mklatchia@intnet.mu  31.8.2022

NOTE : Les points de vue exprimés dans cette rubrique ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux de la rédaction et n’engagent que les auteurs eux-mêmes.