Death of Mikhail Gorbachev: thousands of Russians at Gorbachev's funeral, but not Putin

Sylvie Claire / September 4, 2022

Thousands of Russians said goodbye on Saturday to the last leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev during a funeral without official pomp and circumstance, marked by the absence of President Vladimir Putin. Mikhail Gorbachev, who died on Tuesday at 91 years old, was buried in the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, next to his wife Raissa, who died in 1999, while a military orchestra played the Russian national anthem, AFP noted.
Earlier, the remains of this major political figure of the twentieth century had been displayed in the House of Trade Unions, an iconic place in Moscow where the funerals of several leaders of the USSR were celebrated, including those of Joseph Stalin in 1953. A great politician is leaving, the Gorbachev era is ending today, said Yevgeny Matveyev, a 44-year-old miller who was among the thousands of people who came to say goodbye to the former leader.
In small groups, people of all ages came to lay roses and bow in silence before Gorbachev's open coffin, framed by a guard of honor and near which sat his black and white portrait. Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, made history by precipitating, in spite of himself, the disappearance of the Soviet empire in 1991, while trying to save it with democratic and economic reforms, thus ending the Cold War.
In a current context of increasing repression and withdrawal in the midst of Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine, some Russians at the funeral remembered with nostalgia the liberal opening under Gorbachev. We had a breath of freedom, he gave us transparency and pluralism, said Natalia Leleko, a 60-year-old teacher. Ksenia Zhupanova, a 41-year-old interpreter, especially remembers the absence of fear under Gorbachev. I am against cutting myself off from the rest of the world, I am for openness, for dialogue.
But while he is hailed in the West and by some Russians as a man of peace, Gorbachev is also seen by many in his own country as responsible for Moscow's geopolitical downgrading and the years of crisis that followed the fall of the USSR. As a sign of unease with this ambivalent legacy, neither an official funeral nor a day of national mourning has been announced. Above all, the funeral took place without Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin putting forward a busy schedule.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, close to the Kremlin, is the only foreign leader to have visited Moscow, where he bowed to the remains of Gorbachev, AFP noted. Gorbachev was one of the reasons why central Europe was able to get rid of communism peacefully, without human loss or bloodshed, Orban said on Facebook.
Some Russian personalities attended the funeral, such as former president Dmitri Medvedev and journalist Dmitri Muratov, Nobel Peace Prize 2021. Although he was absent on Saturday, Mr. Putin had discreetly gone to the Central Clinical Hospital (TSKB) in Moscow on Thursday, where Gorbachev died, to lay a bouquet of red roses. In a sober message of condolence, he gave Gorbachev a great influence on the history of the world.
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