In contemporary history, few people arouse so many conflicting opinions as Mikhail Gorbachev. Some extol him as the man who saved the world from nuclear apocalypse and also as the man who gave freedom to the peoples of the former USSR and Eastern Europe. Others, however, especially in Russia, regard him as the man who destroyed, not only a great state, but also the lives of countless citizens, who were reduced to misery by the reforms he introduced, or even lost their lives in the wars that to this day rage over the rubble of the USSR.
Not only in Russia is Gorbachev seen from different perspectives. Even in relations between the West and China he has become almost a symbol, either of democracy or ultimate failure, if not betrayal. The New York Times wrote: “The West might celebrate Gorbachev as a hero, but for the Communist Party in China his career was one crowned by failure, and the loud applause of the West only confirmed that.”
These extreme views are obviously a caricature that, while no doubt distorting the full reality of the man and his time, has not arisen entirely without foundation. It is difficult to write about Gorbachev, because, if one wants to remain objective about what he did and what he was like, one must always distinguish, “on the one hand…,” and then, “on the other hand.” Those who have a definite opinion of him see him more as a symbol on which to transfer their own ideas than as an actual man. If we read the comments that are made about him today, we sometimes learn much more about the political conceptions of those making them than about Gorbachev himself.