Monday, November 2, 2009


These days newscasters are reminding us that November 9th is the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall that marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the satellite regimes in Eastern Europe.

Nobody seems to be making the connection between President Obama and Mikhail Gorbatchev, the all-too-shorted lived First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who brought in glastnost, or transparency, and then perestroika, or reform, hoping thereby to save the Communist system.

Gorbatchev was hailed as a great statesman everywhere but in his own country, and was deposed in a bloodless coup by his vice president after six years.  The coup led to the rise of Boris Yeltsin, who dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.

Why do I see a parallel here?  Well, in trying to steer the Soviet Union from Communism to Social Democracy he encountered the resistance of an aging population accustomed to the social net which was a basic feature of the Communist system, and fearful of change.

Change was in fact accelerated under Yeltsin, whose former apparatchiks dismantled the country’s industrial structures for their private gain.

Gorbatchev wanted to end the forty-five year long Cold War with the United States that featured mutually assured destruction by nuclear arms.

Like Gorbatchev, our president is highly regarded internationally, and for the same reasons: a belief in dialogue rather than arms.

Russia is generally considered to have fared less well since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, than it would have if Gorbatchev had been allowed to implement a transformation to a social-democratic system rather than one of robber baron capitalism.

The vocal opponents of Barack Obama are also mightily afraid of changes that involve the introduction of benefits similar to the ones that Gorbatchev’s opponents wanted to hold on to.

With the tea-partyers and birthers we are witnessing an American version of the Yeltsin era.

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