Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, is listed as a possible speaker at an opposition rally Saturday in Moscow that organizers hope will be the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union, correspondent Michael Birnbaum reports. However, Gorbachev is far more influential outside Russia than within.
In an interview last month with The Washington Post, Gorbachev said Russia’s current leaders should not expect to maintain support forever and that “we must ensure that all democratic institutions really function, not as an imitation, as is now the case.”
It remains to be seen whether Gorbachev can emerge from his past and connect more widely with a new generation whose parents consider him a failure who destroyed the country. But his value to the protest movement perhaps lies in the symbolic message he might send to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who announced last fall that he intends to take back the presidency after being forced by term limits to take a break in 2008.
Putin, who served in the KGB for many years, has a Soviet mindset and is very conscious of Soviet history. He restored the Soviet national anthem during his presidency and has called the demise of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. For the protesters, Gorbachev’s appearance Saturdaycould remind Russians that it is possible to listen to the people and loosen the reins, Moscow bureau chief Kathy Lally reports.