Mikhail Gorbachev, the Fundamentally Soviet Man

Masha Gessen in The New Yorker:

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, died in Moscow, on Tuesday, at the age of ninety-one. In the last two decades of his life, he rarely granted interviews. So, in 2010, when he agreed to speak to someone from a Moscow magazine that I edited, I felt both awe and some misgivings: here was a unique opportunity that would almost certainly be wasted. Gorbachev was a notoriously terrible interviewee. He rambled; he went off on tangents; he almost never finished a sentence. In a desperate move, my colleagues and I asked readers to send in questions. Someone asked, “What could bring you joy now?” This time, Gorbachev was ready with a concise answer. “If someone could promise me that in the next world I will see Raisa,” he said. “But I don’t believe in that.” Raisa, his wife of forty-six years, had died, of leukemia, in 1999.

“I don’t believe in God,” Gorbachev continued. Raisa had not been a believer, either, but “she progressed faster than I did in this direction.” What he seemed to be getting at was that Raisa had stayed in step with her country, becoming a post-Soviet Russian, while Gorbachev remained a fundamentally Soviet man.

More here.