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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raisa's Illness Rehabilitates Gorby




At the Gorbachev Foundation on Leningradsky Prospekt, the mail keeps piling up for Raisa Gorbachev. Herbal medicines from Siberia. An offer of $25,000 (and an assurance that the sender is not crazy). Letters from folk healers that, if they just had her date of birth and picture, they could guarantee a cure for her leukemia.


The illness of Raisa Gorbachev has done the near-impossible for her and for her husband, Mikhail Gorbachev. It has made their countrymen look at them sympathetically.


"There must be something in the Russian character that makes people beat someone almost to death and then raise them to the very heights," said Vladimir Polyakov, Gorbachev's spokesman at the foundation. "It's in the Russian nature to cover someone with dirt until a real tragedy happens."


Rightly or wrongly, the Gorbachevs were widely reviled in post-perestroika Russia - Gorbachev for breaking up the Soviet Union and for the country's disorder and poverty, Raisa for her stylish ways and reputed influence over her husband. Gorbachev got only 1 percent of the vote when he ran for president in 1996.


But, while people probably aren't changing their minds wholesale about Gorbachev's political legacy, his new role as concerned and devoted husband has generated favorable public comment.


Raisa Gorbachev has been undergoing treatment at M?nster University Hospital in Germany since July 25. She has already undergone a first round of chemotherapy and is being prepared by doctors for a bone-marrow transplant.


Gorbachev has been at his wife's bedside constantly and has been shown several times on television in Russia, briefing reporters on his wife's condition with a haggard look and teary eyes.


Sympathetic reaction in the West, where Gorbachev is widely admired, is not surprising. The former Soviet president has received supportive messages from all the major Western leaders, his spokesman said. Letters flow into M?nster daily from ordinary people in Germany, where Gorbachev's role in reunification helped make him a popular figure. Some people offer to pay for the treatment.


Polyakov showed off a pile of Russian mail at the foundation. For example, an elderly Muscovite, the widow of a Soviet general, called the fund and offered $25,000 to pay for Raisa Gorbachev's treatment.


The woman sold a luxurious apartment she had inherited after her husband died, moved into a smaller one and said she has the money. "She said, 'Please don't think I'm crazy.'"


Several people called and asked for Gorbachev's date of birth and a photograph, assuring that that would be enough for them to cure her. "I'm ready to take on the case of your wife," wrote Valery Suslov from Togliatti in central Russia. "Full recovery is guaranteed," his brief telegram said.


Polyakov also said that letters and telegrams are piled up in the hotel room of another spokesman accompanying Gorbachev in M?nster. "Surprisingly, letters arrive in M?nster without any post code. People just write: Germany, M?nster Hospital or something like that," Polyakov said.


News media comment has been sympathetic too. Argumenty i Fakty newspaper wrote: "Mikhail Sergeyevich never leaves his wife's bedside. It is painful to look at him. This couple is bound together by absolute unity."


"They cannot live without each other," the paper wrote. "It used to irritate us. Now we give them their due."


Komsomolskaya Pravda published a touching love story about how and when they met and married. The newspaper also published letters from thankful parents of leukemia-stricken children. By a turn of fate, Raisa Gorbachev has become the victim of a disease she has donated money to fight.


In 1990, she donated $100,000 to improve the treatment of leukemia among children in Russia, whose survival rate was low compared to that in Western countries. Money from her husband's book fees and awards was used to equip a bone-marrow transplant center in southwest Moscow.


Polyakov said he passed some of the newspaper clips to the Gorbachevs. "After all the mud being poured on her for years, she didn't expect to see anything nice about her in the newspapers," Polyakov said. "She was moved to tears by that."