In a wide-ranging interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta prior to his birthday on Thursday, Gorbachev, who remains a marginalized figure in his homeland despite playing a more public role under President Putin and still being feted in the West, made clear that his enthusiasm for socialism was undiminished, though he indicated that he was proud to have played a role in ending the Soviet system.
"I was and remain an advocate of the socialist idea," he said. "This is an ideal. This is a value. But I led a process of debunking a socialist model that rejected democracy and relied on dictatorship."
After cautioning that Stalinism lived on in the mindsets of some Russians, the former Soviet leader, who was banished from any visible political role during the presidency of long-time rival Boris Yeltsin, also criticized the approach of some Western countries to modern Russia.
When asked about a recent resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemning communist regimes, Gorbachev said he saw it as a model of the attitude to Russia in the West. He poured scorn on attempts to present Russia's integration efforts in the former Soviet republics as seeking to restore the Soviet "empire," citing surveys which showed that although 70-80% of former Soviet people regretted the collapse of the U.S.S.R., only 9% wanted it back.
Although many in the West understand that Russia is a friend and a good partner, they are still wary about it, Gorbachev told RG. "Some people seem to be set to keep Russia in a half-suffocated state," he said.
Commenting on Russia's deteriorating relations with some former Soviet republics, particularly Georgia and Ukraine, Gorbachev put the process down to national political elites. He said the ruling elites had been quite comfortable in Soviet times, but were now opting for populist steps to win the sympathies of their voters to remain in power.
When asked to elaborate on the domestic policy pursued by Vladimir Putin, who has been accused of backsliding on democracy in the West, Gorbachev enthusiastically described his program as socio-democratic, which, he said, was the best choice for the country.
"We do not need extremes: neither left-wing radicalism, nor liberal-radicalism, because neither one suits Russia," Gorbachev said. "What Putin has done for Russia has already gone down in history. He pulled a collapsing state out of chaos, when the army, the Federation, and the social and economic systems, were all disintegrating."
However, the former leader savaged some ministers, in particular their handling of the debacle in early 2004 over replacing benefits in-kind with cash payments that saw pensioners take to the freezing streets to protest. He said the reform was a disaster until the president had intervened and offered people the right to choose.
"Analyzing the events, I said then that the policy to attain high technologies, develop medium-sized business, education and medicine would come to nothing with these ministers..."
Gorbachev called on Russians to vote in the December 2007 parliamentary elections, as they could alter the entire composition of the lower chamber of parliament, which is currently dominated by the Kremlin-friendly United Russia. He also said votes had to be cast as a way of fighting corruption and the bureaucracy, which he said was even present in parliament.
Turning to global affairs, Gorbachev told RG that the recent scandal that had engulfed the Muslim and Christian worlds after European media published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed reflected the current changing world.
"The world is changing rapidly," he said. "We have not even noticed that we have entered a new era."
He said it was part of the ongoing globalization when ties were stronger, all the while increasing reciprocal dependence. The ex-Soviet leader urged Europe to respect Islamic culture but added the scandal could have been deliberately orchestrated, as the cartoon was first published in September and the conflict erupted just recently.
In a related theme, Gorbachev approved of the Russian policy toward radical Palestinian movement Hamas, whose representatives Putin invited to Moscow following the organization election triumph in the Palestinian National Authority in January. He said Hamas had been elected by a democratic vote and therefore was a legitimate authority.
Commenting on the United States' refusal to recognize the new Palestinian leadership, which it has branded a terrorist organization, Gorbachev said: "The U.S. has invented the idea of 'axis of evil' and now does not know what to do with it." He added that Russia, despite being economically unstable, had the diplomatic and historical experience of co-existing in peace with other nations.
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