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The Greatest Democrat Russia Ever Had

Perhaps if Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, had died in 1991, people back then would have busied themselves assessing his place in history. But, because Gorbachev joined historians, politicians, his comrades, and the public in reviewing his rule, he helped bury himself as a historical figure while still alive.

MOSCOW – “We all need to have perestroika,” Mikhail Gorbachev would often say. The Soviet Union’s last leader lived by that credo. After becoming the general secretary of the Communist Party in 1985 and implementing his program of restructuring and glasnost (openness), he even changed his job title, preferring to be called president.

The first and last Soviet president was the most democratic leader that Russia (the USSR’s de facto center) had over the last century, if not ever. And in the 31 years since the Soviet collapse, his belief in peace, mutual understanding, dialogue, and democracy remained unwavering.

It was these values that led Gorbachev to withdraw the Soviet Union from a decade-long disastrous war in Afghanistan, and in 1993 to use the money from his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize to help fund Novaya Gazeta, the flagship media outlet of Russia’s democrats whose editor, Dmitry Muratov, received his own Nobel Peace Prize last year. Along with dozens of other independent media outlets, Novaya Gazeta was forced to suspend operations soon after President Vladimir Putin launched his “special military operation” in Ukraine in February.

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