With the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last great statesman, and an entire epoch, disappears. I had the privilege of working with him, as deputy director of the World Political Forum, which Gorbi had founded in Turin in 2003, with a headquarters agreement with the Piedmont Region. The Forum brought together personalities from all over the world to discuss what was happening. The greatest international protagonists, from Kohl to Mitterrand, from Jaruzelski to Oscar Arias, would discuss frankly their role and their mistakes.
I will always remember an FPM in 2007, in which Gorbachev reminded those present that he had agreed in a meeting with Kohl, to withdraw support for the East German regime, in return for an assurance that NATO borders would not be moved beyond reunified Germany. And Kohl replied, pointing to Andreotti who was present, that some were not so enthusiastic about a return to creating Europe's greatest power, a position shared by Thatcher. Andreotti had said: 'I love Germany so much that I prefer to have two'. And the American delegation acknowledged this commitment but complained that Secretary of State Baker had been overwhelmed by the hawks, who wanted to continue to enlarge NATO and squeeze Russia into a straitjacket. Gorbi's comment was lapidary: 'instead of cooperating with a Russia that wanted to continue on a northern-style socialist path, you hastened to bring it down, and had Yeltsin first, who was conditionally yours'. But from Yeltsin was born Putin, who began to see things in a completely different way.
Gorbachev cooperated with Reagan to eliminate the Cold War. It is amusing to see American historiography attributing the historic victory over communism and the end of the Cold War to Reagan. But without Gorbachev, the powerful but dull Soviet bureaucracy would have continued to resist, and would certainly have lost power. But the Berlin Wall would not have fallen, and the wave of freedom in socialist Europe would surely have come after Reagan's term.
How much Gorbachev was the intent, even more than Reagan, on advancing on the path of peace and disarmament, became clear after the 1986 meeting in Reykjavík. Gorbachev proposed to Reagan the total elimination of atomic weaponry. Reagan said that, because of the time difference, he would consult Washington later. When the two met the next morning, Reagan told him that the US proposed the elimination of 40 percent of the nuclear warheads. And Gorbachev replied to him: 'if you can do no more, let's start like this. But I remind you that we can now destroy the planet and humanity hundreds of times over'. Time would prove that disarming nuclear Russia was certainly in the American interest if Defence Secretary Weinberg, who went so far as to threaten resignation, had been able to look far ahead.
Yeltsin did everything he could to humiliate Gorbachev, to replace him. He stripped him of every pension, every perk: bodyguard, state car, and made him vacate the Kremlin in a matter of hours. But with Putin, he became practically an enemy of the people. The propaganda against him was crude but effective. Gorbachev had presided over the end of the Soviet Union's great tragedy and had believed the West. Now the USSR was encircled by NATO, and Putin saw himself obliged, in the name of history, to recover at least part of the great power that Gorbachev had squandered.
Those who had stood by Gorbachev since Yeltsin's arrival saw how the elder statesman, who had changed the course of history, suffered deeply to see the course it was taking. Of course, the press preferred to ignore the deep corruption of the Yeltsin era, which cost the Russian people terrible sacrifices. Under Yeltsin, a team of American economists issued decrees privatizing the entire Russian economy, with an immediate collapse in the value of the rouble and social services. The average life expectancy fell back ten years in one fell swoop. I had a great impression to discover that my breakfast in the morning in the hotel cost as much as an average monthly pension. It was deeply saddening to see so many old ladies dressed in black selling their few poor belongings on the street.
At the same time, a few party officials, friends of Yeltsin, were buying up at bargain prices the large state enterprises put up for sale. But how did they do it, in a society where there were no rich people? Giulietto Chiesa documented this in an investigation in Turin's 'La Stampa'.
Under American pressure, the International Monetary Fund granted an emergency loan of five billion dollars (in 1990) to stabilize the dollar. These dollars never reached the Russian Central Bank, nor did the IMF raise any questions. They were distributed among the future oligarchs, who suddenly found themselves fabulously millionaires. When Yeltsin had to leave power, he sought a successor who would guarantee him and his cronies impunity. One of his advisers introduced him to Putin, saying that he could tame the uprising in Chechnya. And Putin agreed on one condition: that the oligarchs would never get involved in politics. One of them. Khdorkowski, did not respect the pact and opened a front in opposition to Yeltsin. We know his fate: stripped of all property, and imprisoned. It was the only appearance of an oligarch in politics.
Gorbachev is the last statesman. With the arrival of the League in Turin, the agreement to host the World Political Forum was, to his amazement, canceled. The Forum moved to Luxembourg and then the Italians in Rome Foundation took over some of its activities (very presciently) on environmental issues. Gorbachev's right-hand man, Andrei Gracev, Gorbi's spokesman in the PCUS and in the transition to democracy, a brilliant analyst, moved to Paris, where he is the point of reference for debates on Russia. Gorbi, suffering from diabetes, experienced the war in Ukraine as a personal drama: his mother was Ukrainian. He retreated to a hospital under close supervision where he finally died. The era of statesmen is over, also the era of debates by great protagonists of history.
After Gorbachev, politicians lost the dimension of statesmen. They have gradually fallen back to the demands of electoral success, to short-time politics, to the shelving of debates of ideas, and instead turn not to reason, but to the voters' instincts. Instincts to be aroused and conquered, even by a relentless campaign of fake news. A school that Trump has managed to export to the world, from the constitutional vote in Chile on 4 September, to Bolsonaro, to Marcos, to Putin, and, consequently, to Zelenski. And I find myself writing my bitterness, my discouragement, not only for the death of one of my mentors (as Aldo Moro was) but for an era that now seems definitively over: that of Politics with a capital P, capable of shaking up the world it encountered, with great risks and with the great goals of Peace and International Cooperation. And to write uncomfortable truths, known by few, that will be immediately buried by hostile interventions and ridicule. Andrei was right when he said to me a short while ago on the phone: "Roberto, my mistake and yours is to have survived our era. Let us also be careful, because we will end up being a nuisance..."