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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Revolutionary Reformer

He is a statesman.

In the words of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, he is the man who made pulling down of Berlin wall ‘possible’—“you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect.”

        Pulling down of Berlin wall, which many, like today’s economists who failed to predict the ongoing economic crisis, failed to anticipate, is a remarkable event to happen—remarkable than Bolshevik revolution, remarkable than even halting the marching fascist German soldiers into Russia—for it set millions of people free and, importantly, brought the cold war, the likely possibility of annihilation of mankind under the threat of nuclear-conflict, to an end.
        What he let happen did not stop just with the fall of the wall alone. His Perestroika and glasnost marched forward to even question the omnipresent and omnipotent totalitarian regimes that were then ruling the eastern block of Europe. Ironically, his people had elected him to not only lead and protect this very authoritarian regime within the Soviet Union but also to spread Communism across the world. But realizing that this whole edifice was squarely resting on “a structure of faith and ideals,” more than on the wellbeing of the people, as was revealed by its poor economy—incidentally, which had been grossly overestimated by the west till the iron-curtains were pulled down—he let the people say what his own eyes too had seen: “We can’t go on living like this anymore,” that too, quite openly. He breathed in a new philosophy to a country which was practicing state ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange as a panacea to transform itself into a land of plenty: ‘New thinking’—“the credo of solving political problems only by political means, and human problems only in a humane way”; ‘co-creation and co-development’; and “the principle of the freedom of choice.” 
        The rest is history: Soviets “walking out of Eastern Europe” and “permitting non-communist governments to come to power”, and finally, the collapse of the very Soviet Union.
        As Barack Obama, the President of the US, rightly observed, it is his letting the Berlin wall go that unleashed a “rising tide of globalization that continues to shape our world” today. This single phenomenon indeed is responsible for pulling millions of people out of poverty in developing countries such as Brazil, India, and China. All is not, of course, hunky-dory with globalization: there is a dark side to it. The ongoing economic crisis has its origins in it. Secondly, it makes the wealthy wealthier—100 richest Indians are worth $276 bn; they are worth 30% of India’s GDP—while the lesser mortals are hit hard by the booms and busts associated with free markets. Over and above this, while markets are getting globalized, politics remains essentially local. This mismatch between the economic and political liberalism across the globe is the underlying stumbling block in regulating the global economic imbalances that is said to be the driver of today’s global economic crisis. The much hoped for ‘joint efforts’ by him “to put an end to the era of wars …aggression against nature, the terror of hunger and poverty, as well as political terrorism” still remain a hope. It is unfortunate that this “victory for everybody” remains to be exploited.
        Having said that, reverting to the reformer who set the globalization on ascent, his is exemplary courage—“He refused to use the force that would have been necessary to restore the kind of ‘order’ …urged by …party hierarchy”—and he could refuse to “maximize his power” in pursuit of his glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring), demokratizatsiya (democratization), and uskoreniye (acceleration of economic development), that too, in a country like Russia, and in the process preside over the disintegration of his own empire.

And that is Mikhail Gorbachev!

- GRK Murty


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