Gorbachev’s comeback bid

PRESIDENTIAL elections are due in Russia in 1996, and already various contenders seem likely to throw their hats in the ring. It is too early to say who will actually stand, or even whether elections or the institution of the presidency itself will exist in 1996. Russia is simply too unstable for assumptions to be made about it. However, one possible contender has already had a crack at the whip and may have another go.

Mikhail Gorbachev was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 11 1985. He has been out of Russian politics since 1991 when he ceased to be general secretary of a party that was banned in a Soviet Union which then passed into history. Not a startling record of success.

Yet Gorbachev is being tipped as a presidential contender 10 years after he became head of the Soviet Union. He certainly feels he has something to offer. He wrote an article in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera on March 9 saying that “Russia needs perestroika with its democratic, human and non-violent methods”. He said that these values represented the “salvation of Russia”. Gorbachev denied that perestroika was a spent force, though it might need to appear in a “more modern form”.

Gorbachev however lacks popularity in Russia. However popular he was with westerners, the last leader of the CPSU was much less beloved by ordinary Soviet citizens, whose living standards started to decline noticeably under his rule. Gorbachev could never satisfy the ‘radical democrats’ in Russia, and he cannot satisfy their wishes now. On the other hand, the USSR went into its death agonies when he was ‘in charge’, and Russia began to lose influence in the world to a quite dramatic degree. So Gorbachev cannot appeal to Russian ‘communists’ who want the Soviet Union restored, and he cannot appeal to Russian nationalists. Both groups hate him. Gorbachev might wish to appeal to a moderately anti-Yeltsin ‘centre ground’, but this hardly exists in Russia, a society in deep crisis.

The Guardian (March 14) carried an article about the far right in Russia. Some are young men dressing up in SS uniforms, but there are also ex-KGB generals like Aleksandr Sterligov or influential parliamentary deputies like Vladimir Zhirinovsky or Sergei Baburin. The future of Russia might not be shaped by these individuals, but it is their project, not Gorbachev’s, which seems to stand more chance at the moment.

Steve Kay