ARTE – TUESDAY AUGUST 17 AT 8.50 P.M. – DOCUMENTARY

A man in his 90s with a face and body swollen with diabetes walks through a villa near Moscow. This lonely and sick man is Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, the one who, by wanting to reform the Soviet empire, precipitated its collapse. Almost thirty years later, what is his view of his political will, from his accession to power in 1985 until his resignation on December 25, 1991?

Revered in the West, unpopular in Russia, “Gorby” kept intact his faith in Lenin, the founder of the USSR, “our God to all”

Filmed by director Vitaly Mansky, whom he knows well, the father of glasnost (“Transparency”) and perestroika (“Recast”) remains elusive about the circumstances which forced him to resign. He says nothing about the failed August 1991 coup, fomented by his own collaborators. For several days in August, he, his wife Raïssa and their little girl were taken prisoner at their resort in Crimea. A shock from which he never recovered. “I almost went there”, he confides. Hadn’t he seen it coming? “I was weak, I did not cut any head”, he explains, satisfied not to have employed “The methods of (s)he predecessors, including Lenin ”.

Revered in the West, unpopular in Russia, “Gorby” kept intact his faith in Lenin, the founder of the USSR, “Our God to all”, and towards socialism which “Remains an excellent reading grid”. Stalin is different. In his youth, he praised it, writing a complimentary text commentary about it that earned him the highest mark on the exam. “I was okay with that”, he admits. Promoted secretary general in 1985, he consulted the secret archives of the great Stalinist terror (1937-1939), and came out “Horrified”. Lists of people to be shot, “100, 200 people at a time”, were annotated in the hand of the Red Tsar.

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System flaws

Gorbachev knew, without knowing. In his family, on the maternal side, the great-grandfather had been taken to arms from the first purges and the grandfather had returned broken after a stay in Stalinist jails. “He kept saying that Stalin didn’t know. “ It is during this period that the glasnost going to exercise first and foremost. Between 1985 and 1991, the press abounded with stories and interviews describing the mechanism of the purges. The wind of freedom which then blows will reveal the flaws in the system, plagued by corruption, mismanagement and shortages.

The USSR has disappeared but the cult devoted to Stalin remains alive. “Today millions of people admire him,” admits Gorbachev with regret

Little by little, the Soviet glacis cracks, the Berlin Wall falls in 1989, the republics that make up the Union take advantage of the failed putsch to declare their independence. A page has been turned. The USSR has disappeared but the cult devoted to Stalin remains alive. “Today millions of people admire him”, admits Gorbachev with regret. Of Vladimir Putin, he says nothing. Nor on the hot topics of Russian news, the conflict in Ukraine, the attacks on freedoms, the poor management of the pandemic.

Poor in historical revelations, the documentary shows the man as he is, with his weaknesses, his joie de vivre when he sings a Ukrainian song or recites verses by the Russian poet Sergei Essenin. We can only be moved by the love he has for his wife, Raïssa, who died of cancer in 1999. “They said she was leading me by the nose, which I have never denied. It was good, it highlighted her. “

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Gorbachev – Aside, documentary by Vitaly Mansky (Fr.-Lett.-Rép. tch., 2020, 101 min). Available on Arte.tv until September 15th.

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