The departure of change agent, Gorbachev
So, the curtain is drawn on the life and times of Mikhail Gorbachev, the colossus who tore off the masks from faces of a great many fellow human beings across the globe and brought down the proverbial iron curtain that separated the Eastern Europe from Western Europe. I am referring to the man who lit the fire of freedom in millions of souls to recognise the political chains and economic bondage in which they had nestled. When Gorbachev took the world by storm in 1990 to remake it, although he mounted the throne in 1985, I wrote my first article on him and two others subsequently—when he won the Nobel Prize of that year and when he stepped down as President of the Soviet Union two years later, 1992. He came with such gale that swept through the world to halt the march of autocracy and punch the ugly face of authoritarianism in his far reaching reforms. I wish to reproduce two of the write-ups as this column’s tribute to a man of destiny, to a man of his history. Captioned “Gorbachev Forces,” published on February 8, 1990, my first article reads:
“The face of the world —not the geological face yet, not, if you like, the physical geography—is changing, and breathlessly, too. How many times will one say this? But look at it. Perceive it. You hardly finish absorbing the blow on the one side of the once impregnable structure than another occurs. And the singular agent of that change is Mikhail Gorbachev. Not a single shot he fired. Not a long and winding speech that requires three pints of lager to calm down did he make. All he had was a vision of a world, confidence and courage of his conviction, all wrapped in two words—perestroika and glasnost.
Wherever the two words were blown by the wind had the steely communist gate giving way and freed men poured into the streets, sometimes not knowing where to go or what to do next. It is as if the prison gate is suddenly opened. When pere-glasnost reached China in May, Mr. Deng-Xiaoping ensured that the storm that ensued did not sink the boat of state in his turbulent sea. Tanks were moved over students who had gathered at a public square, wishing that the storm were stronger. Many of them were sent to prison. It is being claimed that there are still about 10, 000 of them in jail. Mr. Yan Shangkun and Mr. Chen Yun adept with age at managing storm were on hand to help Comrade Deng. But perestroika-glasnost will not relent. It aroused a new consciousness in Europe, touching off rebellion and bringing communism crashing relentlessly and at great, confounding speed.
The journey of perestroika-glasnost is more familiar. It began in Poland in March last year when Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa and 10 of his lieutenants met with President Jaruzelski at talks called to participate in a remodeled political structure which would share the legislature with opposition with 65 per cent of the seats going to the communist-led alliance. The issue was resolved through the ballot box at which Solidarity won 99 of 100 seats in Senate. As of August 22, Mr. Gorbachev telephoned the communist leadership urging it to let Solidarity form the government in the interest of their national unity.
Hungary and Poland had been struggling for reforms. It was only to be expected that Hungary would welcome perestroika. Eric Honecker of East Germany quit, forced to resign on October 18. About three weeks later, November 9, the Berlin Wall fell. Then came the turn of establishments in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Romania. In Gorbachev’s native country, demand for independence mounted in Lithuania and Baltic republics of Latvia and Estonia. There was sectarian shoot-out between Moslem Azerbaijan and Christian Armenia. Our own Republic of Benin, yes, the Republic next door, quickly dumped the socialist toga. Mr. Fredrick de Klerk of South Africa has very sharp sights and is quickly reading the handwriting of Gorbachev phenomenon on the Western Cape prison wall. Nelson Mandela is to be released without preconditions later this month. Mr. De Klerk is strenuously urging his kins, the Conservatives to accept the inevitable, warning them that the risk of staying in a dead end street is far higher.
“Everything we do we do to avoid revolution. In Rhodesia the mistake was that the opportunity for constructive negotiation was not exploited. They waited too long. We are determined not to repeat that mistake,” he says. It does appear that, as a matter of fact, such is the situation in South Africa that it is Mandela who is now to spell out the terms of his release because he is resolved not to be released at all costs. And two of the conditions he wants met are an end to the state of emergency in the enclave and freedom for all political prisoners.
Mr. Gorbachev is not done yet. Addressing Communist Party leaders in Moscow, he urged them to brace up for a multi-party political system. As far as he was concerned, a multi-party arrangement was a reality in the Soviet Union and all that was left was the legal backing for justice. His vision of the political arrangement is that in which the monopoly of power by the Communist Party will end and other parties will enjoy the same rights to power as the Communist Party and have those rights protected by law which will replace Article 6 of the Soviet constitution. He is pressing that his own position both as President as well as party leader be split.
General Babangida has been drawing attention to goings-on in Eastern Europe in his speeches to the intellectual community. Prince Bola Ajibola is fortunate that Mr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, the revolutionary at 60 has vacated the centre-stage by the time Gorbachev headed towards Africa. Aka-Bashorun was just warming up when his time was up, leaving Gani Fawehinmi alone to worry about Gorbachev’s lesson notes on Decree 2. Mr. Gorbachev has let loose forces he himself will not be able to reverse. Just consider the delegation that flew to Switzerland with shopping briefcases for investments in their respective countries: Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Leonid Abalkin; President of Yugoslavia, Mr. Ante Markovic; Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Mr. Mariam Galfa; Prime Minister of East Germany, Mr. Hans Modrow; Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Mr. Andrei Lukanov; and Vice Premier of Hungary, Mr. Peter Medgyessy. They flew in to catch 800 businessmen from the Western world who were gathered for World Economic Forum.
The Gorbachev phenomenon is not all bread. There is a great deal more to it and this is why I agree with Tony Momoh, the Information Minister, when he said the other day that the events in Eastern Europe are no victory for any system. I am sure my friends and colleagues, Edie Madunagu and Kayode Komolafe, both Karl Max disciples, would be happy to hear that. It is victory for man who is struggling to fight free from all bondage—social, cultural, religious, economic and political. The human spirit will be the victor of tomorrow.
Below is the second article I wrote which I refer to earlier on this page. Captioned Exit of Gorbachev and published 30 years ago, on January 23, it reads as follows:
Exit of Gorbachev
“MR. Mikhail Gorbachev has finally left office as President of the Soviet Union, now of blessed memory. He was seen for the first time in public last week Tuesday since he resigned four weeks ago in the wake of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He returned at the head of a think-tank he had set up in Moscow. According to reports, the outing brought him to a meeting with Henry Kissinger, the erstwhile United States Secretary of State, alias Mr. Shuttle Diplomacy.
“After he has accomplished creditably the task of liberating millions of human spirits from the shackles of the state, from one part of the globe to the other, it would seem befitting that he works in his International Foundation for Social, Economic and Political Research as a way of keeping himself mentally alert. Mr. Gorbachev will go down as one of the greatest figures in history. There will be hardship in the Republics for some time to come. This is inevitable. When a house is being rebuilt some inconvenience is bound to be experienced. It is an irony that the wilderness from which the erstwhile Soviets are returning the Europeans seem headed in the European Community which has been pressing for a political union.
“The consistent sane voice among the European leaders before the plunge has been that of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher who waves the banners of her Englishness with exceeding pride. She has said it loud and clear she was proud to be a Briton and would like to remain so. Even if it takes 200 years it is that voice that will triumph, for all unnatural unions will disintegrate in the end in accordance with the immutable principles of life. It is not an accident that some are French, some are Britons, and some are Germans etc. Inherent dissimilarities among peoples who form or were forced to form a union, when glossed over, lead inexorably to what political scientists sometimes refer to as inherent contradictions. What is inherent refers to the basics, the principle which means source, origin or spring. Chambers 20th Century Dictionary puts it beautifully: essential nature, a fundamental truth. The essential nature of man is his core, the spirit. Varied inequalities in the world derive from varied levels of its development among peoples. The unclouded spirit makes for a strong man. The strong man moves to the table of Nature, the table of the Lord, and has his fill. What nations may do is trade and cooperate among themselves, but not seize the sovereignty and identity of others.
“Each people will struggle free with time and restore their identity as the case of the Germans has shown. A homogenous people can never be kept apart and those that are dissimilar, not together. The matter goes beyond the surface—beyond the point many have regarded as settled and given. There is order in life, in the world, which we human beings can do nothing about. We can all observe around us, if we care, the Law of Similarity which ensures that tilapia fish do not mix with salmons, nor do monkeys with grass-cutters or Zebras with deers.
“Mr. Gorbachev has set his people and millions of others free, to stand independently, and take decisions about their own lives the consequences of which they will personally bear. Those who obey the Law of decency and morality, and work hard will certainly know peace and prosperity. Their talents will unfold, and they will, each people, build a strong nation.”That is the imperishable legacy of Mikhail Gorbachev’s life when he departed earthly life at 91 a week ago.