Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in
The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
In the West, Mikhail Gorbachev is hailed as a giant who liberated Russia from totalitarianism. At home, however, he is still perceived as the man who destroyed a way of life and plunged his country into economic chaos and ruin. History will ultimately be the judge of the last Soviet leader's accomplishments and failures. Two excerpts from The Post of Dec. 26, 1991:
By Michael Dobbs
Washington Post Foreign Service
MOSCOW, Dec. 25 --
Mikhail Gorbachev resigned today as president of the Soviet Union, transferring control of the country's huge nuclear arsenal to Russian President Boris Yeltsin as the red Soviet flag atop the Kremlin was lowered for the last time.
Immediately after announcing his resignation in a live television broadcast, the last leader of the world's first communist state signed a decree formally relinquishing command of the 3.7 million-member Soviet armed forces. Within a half-hour, the white, red and blue Russian flag was flying above Gorbachev's former Kremlin office, symbolizing the end of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Soviet communism 74 years after the Bolshevik Revolution.
In his farewell address, Gorbachev proudly defended his achievements as Soviet leader, including the dismantling of the totalitarian system and the inauguration of a new era in East-West relations. But he also struck a note of warning about the dangers that lie ahead for the 15 independent countries that have been carved out of the former Soviet Union, making clear that he had been deeply opposed to the "dismembering" of the unitary state.
By David Remnick
Washington Post Foreign Service
You may my glories and my state depose,
But not my griefs; still am I king of those.
-- Shakespeare's King Richard II, Act IV
Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, whose battle to reform socialism has ended with the collapse of Leninist ideology and the Soviet Union, left the Kremlin tonight an exhausted and bitter man.
In his final days, Gorbachev told aides that he felt "balanced" and "at peace" with his choices, his place in history. But as he sat in the eerie quiet of his office last weekend receiving visitors and watching news reports on television, he learned that the presidents of the former Soviet republics, who had met to form the new Commonwealth of Independent States, had discussed not only an end to the Soviet Union but, with unconcealed relish, the details of his pension. Down the hall, members of President Boris Yeltsin's Russian government were already taking measurements and inventory for their imminent move into the Kremlin.
"For me, they have poisoned the air," Gorbachev confided to one reporter. "They have humiliated me."
Gorbachev has tried hard to conceal his emotions, to cover them over with pride and the language of political euphemism. Yet his sense of rejection and betrayal from all sides seems no less profound for him than it was for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was ousted in 1964, or for Winston Churchill when he was summarily voted out of 10 Downing St., after leading Britain to victory in World War II. Four months ago, Gorbachev's closest aides in the Communist Party, the military and the KGB arrested him and made clear an implicit threat of murder. Once back in Moscow, Yeltsin and other republics' leaders leached him of all authority, making him look hollow and weak.
And the people -- the people who had never elected Gorbachev in the first place -- have shown a minimum of gratitude for their new-found civil freedoms as they wait in line to enter dark and empty stores. A life of poverty, it seems, leaves no room for sympathy with the griefs of czars.
This series is in a book that can be purchased online at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/2000/collectors.htm or by