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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gorbachev: Absurd and Offensive

Mikhail Gorbachev, in Britain on a six-day visit, is getting the superstar reception he deserves as the man who ended the Cold War, but the statements he has been making on Russia's coming elections are absurd, if not offensive.


In a series of speeches and interviews, Gorbachev is saying that Yeltsin has a "cowboy" approach to reform that has wrought havoc on Russia's economy. This is hardly shocking: It is an opinion that quite a few Russians share. Besides, Yeltsin does not say very nice things about Gorbachev either.


But on the elections, the Soviet Union's last president, Communist Party general secretary and Supreme Soviet chairman has no shame. "It is not really the people who decide this time, but the authorities", he declared on the BBC.


The last time that the Russians were able to vote for a legislature, Gorbachev was in power. In those elections, which Gorbachev presumably means were better, the authorities, i. e. the Communist Party, largely decided who would be on the ballot.


The Soviet Congress of People's Deputies was first elected in 1989. At that time Boris Yeltsin was, beyond dispute, the most popular politician in the country. But such were the electoral rules that Yeltsin was kept off the list and only made it into the Congress because another deputy gave up his seat.


To get elected to the Russian Congress of People's Deputies a year later, would-be candidates had first to be elected by a collective - a factory, academy or something of that kind - or by the Communist Party itself. Given that to get anywhere in Soviet collectives you had to be in the Communist Party, again the result was that only a handful of reformers made it onto the ballot, even though election day proved them consistently more popular than their opponents.


Such were the good old days of "free" elections in an era of one-party rule.


The current polls, although they have have numerous serious weaknesses, are light-years ahead of the crippled process that Gorbachev oversaw.


One of the main reasons why voters are disillusioned with the current elections is that they cannot distinguish among all the parties they are seeing on television. In the Gorbachev elections there was no such problem, because there were virtually no parties. The issue was simple - you were either for or against the Kremlin.


Today, the Kremlin still plays an overbearing role in elections, but the current polls are democracy personified compared to those held just a few years ago.


Gorbachev's place in history is assured. But the more he attacks the Russian government for stumbling on a road that he refused to take at all, the more his credibility will suffer.