Mikhail Gorbachev has many zchusim but there is one more which can be added to the list. If not for my desire to write chesped for him my above essays would still sit in the folder of my computer.
Last time, I think, I wrote chespaidim on political figures, for Vaclav Havel and Kim Ir Sen who departed on the same week.
I have no illusions; I don’t think there is anybody these days waiting for my essays or being curious what Matys Weiser thinks about events. It was maybe the case 10 or so years ago when I was really active, and not only on this blog. Today I still write occasionally but many times it ages unread in the folders of my computer for months or years.
So now I have this strong impulse to deal with a significant period of my life due to the passing of the ex-leader of the Soviet Union, once I opened my blog, there are some more material to be published. And I think those essays are much more important than one which I’m going to share now. Enjoy.
I grew up in communist Poland in 70’s and 80’s.
The world at first was pretty stagnant around me for the first 10 years of my life. Or rather at the age of 4, I was not aware of political events taking place in the Polish dockyards. 41 people were killed, over 1,000 injured in strikes against the government. The Polish government of Party Leader Gomulka collapsed as the result of riots and strikes. 10 years under the First Secretary of Polish United Labor Party (Communists) Edward Gierek began.
I have said many times in my writings that my political awareness awaked in 1976, when I was 10 years old. Another wave of social unrest took place in Poland. I was old enough to understand that the ruling party may be united but not to the benefit of the exploited working class. Just the opposite: Communist elites installed themselves as the owners of means of production, running basically what Prof. Noam Chomsky calls “State Capitalism”.
Then in 1980 Gierek’s government was changed in an unprecedented wave of strikes and as a result of the formation of an independent workers union “Solidarnosc” or Solidarity.
18 months later the Polish army was deployed on Polish streets. A State of War was declared by Communists in Poland against its own population. A year and half, when for the first time in generations people could breathe freedom, was ending with the tanks on the streets of the cities and forcibly entering factories on strike.
The Solidarity opposition was arrested, or a few managed to go to hiding, some of them for years.
I was 15 then but had my share in participating and even organizing some small-scale protests.
Then my spiritual evolution began and few years later my participation in politics ended and interest in it dwindled.
One thing was constant during all those years of my growth – Leonid Brezhnev in the Kremlin.
It is impossible for someone growing up in that part of Europe under Soviet influence not to remember his bushy eyebrows, slower and slower speeches and multiple microphones which we firmly believed were serving him with oxygen as he barely stood at the podium towards his older years. Of course, his age and deteriorating health were topic of an endless number of jokes, as humor is the strongest defensive weapon for a conquered or controlled population.
He passed away or was murdered at the order of the head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who replaced him as the head of the country. It didn’t change much for the rest of inhabitants of 12 time zones from Vladivostok to the Laba River. Andropov was old himself and by taking the position of the leader of the Communist party he preserved the system for another few years between himself and the Stalinist Konstantin Chernenko.
When Chernenko passed away in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev was chosen as the head of the Communist party in the Soviet Union and as such the de facto head of the country.
He was considered to be a reformist within the Soviet Communist party, but at the time, no one, not even Gorbachev himself, dreamed that reforms would permanently end the Soviet system in just few years.
Because this is what happened just a little bit over a year after beginning of Gorbachev’s tenure:
At 21:02 the evening of 28 April, a 20-second announcement was read in the TV news program Vremya: "There has been an accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. One of the nuclear reactors was damaged. The effects of the accident are being remedied. Assistance has been provided for any affected people. An investigative commission has been set up.”
At the time, I was serving a 2-year term as a janitor in the military hospital due to the my refusal to be drafted into the army. Working in the pediatric clinic I was preparing a mixture of berry juice and iodine to prevent the possible development of cancer as our territory was also affected by the nuclear cloud.
I don’t know what Tversky’s did here or in heaven if anything, but cracks had opened in one of the most restrictive empires in the history of the mankind, cracks which began to crumble in Polish stockyard but were patched by brute force in 1981 and 82 with the tanks on the streets., Those patches could not survive the nuclear explosion in the town of Chernobyl.
Communists were still trying to hide the real size of the catastrophe but soon the era of Glasnost, openness, began as the reformist Gorbachev understood that not this and not anything after the Chernobyl fallout could be hidden anymore.
Perestroika, reconstruction, was another Russian word heard in the background of the events of Chernobyl.
What supposed to be little more than cosmetic changes in the Soviet system, because of Chernobyl, Glasnost, and another wave of strikes in Poland, Gorbachev initiated what ended in total collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet system.
In spring of 1988 workers in Poland strike again. They issued their usual call for social democratic changes with an additional demand to release the opposition members from jail.
In early summer, Polish Communists reached out to some opposition leaders in the country through the mediation of the Catholic Church,
In the fall of the same year, the Round Table was convened and negotiations ended in early spring of the following year with a partial return to Democracy and a free market economy.
This time neither the Polish Opposition nor the Polish Communists were afraid of “brotherly” intervention from “beloved” nation in the East.
On 4th of June 1989 the first partially free election took place in the Communist block with the result of filling all allowed spots in Polish parliament by the members of Solidarity movement.
Communists understood that they had no legitimacy representing the population not only of Poland but of other countries of the Soviet bloc, including the Soviet Union itself.
Gorbachev, who from reforms turned to supervisor of the dismantling an empire guilty of the taking of tens of millions of human lives.
The day of the Polish election was also the day when the Communist party of China decided to smash protesters in Tiananmen square, many of them burned alive with flame throwers.
Would Gorbachev choose the Chinese path of defending the system?
In the past Communist regimes didn’t hesitate to invade countries or even carpet bomb their own villages for refusing to give up their land to the Communists. The starvation of millions of Ukrainians was within the pattern of their understanding of the Marxist “dictature of the Proletariat”.
But he didn’t.
He managed to release country by country and republic by republic to take their own path for the future.
And it wasn’t only because of the weakness of the crumbling economy. Empires in such situations are worse, more dangerous for their populations than those disassembling in a peaceful manner. In fact, I can’t really recall any instance of an Empire being dismantled without the cost of significant loss of population in civil wars, independence wars or the collapse of the administration.
Living as young man under the Communist system, as all citizens of my country, we didn’t expect the system to end in our lifetime, much less almost without the spill of human blood in “Communist proportions”.
But it ended.
Mikhail Gorbachev is hated by many Russians. We are witnessing an attempt to restore at least partially the Russian empire. But for all the nations previously conquered and controlled by the Tzar or the First Secretary of the Party, Gorbachev will remain a hero.Hashem should bring more rulers as him in the path to complete Geula leading to the days of Mashiych Tzidkayni.